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Full text of "Song of the Soul"

Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2013 



http://archive.org/details/songofsoulOOunse 



§®2i@ ©ip inns §®iil 



REFLECTIONS BY LESBIAN CLERGY ON IDENTITY, FAITH AND 

MINISTRY 



y 



BY 



DIANE L. MOORE 



A Project/Thesis Submitted 

to the Faculty of the 

Episcopal Divinity School 

in Partial Fulfillment 

of the Requirements 

for the Degree 

DOCTOR OF MINISTRY 

June 14. 1989 



(Jwrt^/M\/*r*~^-- 



Carter Heyyafd 



Katie Cannon 




UMA2 



\jMai* "I 



& 



Fredrica Harris Thompselt 



(LdbJjjffis 



© 1989 by Diane L. Moore 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 

Acknowledgements x 

Introduction 1 

CHAPTER ONE: FEMINIST LIBERATION THEOLOGY AND ETHICS 5 

Roots and Context 5 

Who Do You Say God Is? 6 

Basic Assumptions of FLT 7 

Feminist Liberation Ethics 1 

Spirals of Conversion 1 6 

CHAPTER TWO: PERSONAL PRAXIS AND LOCATION 22 

Personal Praxis 22 

Specific Assumptions Regarding This Study 28 

CHAPTER THREE: RESEARCH METHODOLOGY 31 

Theory 31 

Application 35 

Group Versus Individual Interviews 35 

Choice of Participants 36 

Summary of Recruitment Procedures 

and Priorities 38 

Funding and Expenses 40 

Outline of Gathering 4 1 

CHAPTER FOUR: RESULTS 45 

Summary of Stories of Participants 45 

Presentation of Themes 69 

Question *1: Coming out: What do you 

lose and what do you gain? 69 

Question tt 2: Who are my people? To 

whom am I accountable? 81 

Questions *3 & 4: What do I believe? 

What are the sources for my 

authority? What are the new 

emergent paradigms for 

ministry? 90 

Summary of Themes and Articulation 

of Metathemes 1 06 



CHAPTER FIVE: DISCUSSION 1 1 1 

Development of Metathemes 1 11 

Implications ....1 18 



APPENDIX A 124 

Denominational Statements on the Ordination of Lesbians 
and Gay Men 

APPENDIX B 129 

Short Description of Participants 

APPENDIX C 132 

Edited Transcripts of Discussions 

BIBLIOGRAPHY 162 



Acknowledge meats 

By attempting to name individuals who have been instrumental in 
shaping, implementing and undergirding this project, I run the standard risk 
of omission. Indeed, it would be impossible for me to identify all the women 
and men who played a significant role in the success of this endeavor for 
there are several people that supported this work from a distance: friends of 
friends, friends of acquaintances and sisters in the "network" that I "know" 
only through our common identities and similar passions. There were 
literally hundreds of people involved in this undertaking, which makes it 
one of the most collective projects I've ever had the privilege of participating 
in. The following people deserve special mention however, for their unique 
and critical contributions to this study. 

I want to thank my parents, Delores and Milton, for helping to support 
me financially and emotionally through this year of intensive writing. This 
project would not have a chance to emerge if it weren't for the "space" they 
helped provide for its birth. I also want to acknowledge the emotional and 
spiritual support of my Grandma Lill, who "always knew" about my 
lesbianism (even before I did) and who has never waivered in her love for 
me and her encouragement of my well-being. 

Nancy Richardson and Donna Bivens at the Women's Theological 
Center offered resource ideas as well as a consistent witness through their 
own important work of providing the best that theological education can 
offer to begin to heal a broken and heartsick world. Amy Sammonds (also of 
the WTO was an important resource into the underground network of 
lesbians involved in religious vocations. I am very appreciative of her belief 
in this project and help in contacting participants. 



Susan DeMattos provided invaluable emotional support as well as 
numerous resources on phenomenology. She also linked me up with Joan 
Callahan who served as a consultant for the research methodology I utilized. 
I am new to the discipline of Psychology and these two women helped me 
move right to the core of the important methodological tools that form the 
foundation for the research portion of this work. For their insight on this 
project and the critical contributions they have each made to feminist 
research, I am deeply grateful. 

Kate Stevens, John and Cathy Hoffman, Frank and Jennifer Dor man, 
Peggy Smith and Laurie Robinson literally undergirded this effort by 
"sponsoring" it in the name of our Christian base community; affectionately 
known as the Sunday Afternoon Group or SAG. Jane Smith of the Miff 
School of Theology and the Student Executive Committee of the Episcopal 
Divinity School made financial contributions, Jennifer Abod offered technical 
advice regarding sound, and Carolyn Dittes sat for hours attentively 
monitoring the recording of each working session. Students at the Episcopal 
Divinity School who were part of my small group colloquium offered 
valuable insight at the early stages of my outline, and I was honored to have 
Frednca Harris Thompsett serve as one of my three readers (along with 
Carter Heyward and Katie Cannon.) Judith Eissenberg helped edit the final 
manuscript and was a constant source of encouragement and groundedness; 
challenging me to keep the material accessible and relevant to women 
outside of feminist theological circles. 

Cheryl Giles served as the co-facillitator for the gathering and spent 
days helping to recruit participants and accessing the underground 
networks. Her competent leadership and skill as an astute facilitator were 
foundational to the success of this undertaking. 



Katie Cannon and Carter Heyward have each served as mentors, role 
models, teachers and spiritual guides for me in more ways than I could 
possibly express. The privilege of working intimately with them both is one 
I will forever cherish. Among the many gifts I have received, to Katie I owe 
special gratitude for teaching me through example and encouragement a 
whole new dimension of faith and integrity. To Carter I owe thanks for 
forging the paths that gave me the language to claim my lesbian identity 
with pride, and for gently but persistently challenging me to explore ever 
deeper dimensions of what honest relationship entails. 

Finally, I want to acknowledge the courage, faith and fortitude of the 
nine women who participated in this study. They represent countless other 
women who struggle daily to live with integrity, passion and humor amidst 
the contradictions of their lives . To these nine women and to the hundreds 
of women they represent, this work is respectfully dedicated. 



INTRODUCTION 

I was recently traveling back to Boston from the first national 
gathering of the Gay, Lesbian and Affirming Disciples Alliance (GLAD), the 
Lesbian and Gay advocacy group of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). 
The plane from Chicago was full, and I found myself sandwiched between 
two very large men. I had a lot of work to catch up on, and after cordial 
hellos I proceeded to delve into my readings in Christology. The man on my 
left asked me if I was doing Bible study. I answered no and said that I was 
a Chaplain at Brandeis University and a doctoral student at the Episcopal 
Divinity School. He said he was a Born Again Christian and was happy to 
meet a "sister in Christ." I continued reading. A few moments later the man 
on my right asked if I was writing a book. I laughed saying that I was still 
trying to write my thesis and that a book was a little further down the road. 
Then he asked me what my thesis was about. "Lesbian clergy." I answered. 
The man on my left gasped. After a long, pregnant pause, the man on my 

right asked "Are you one or are you just writing about them?" I said that 

I was one and I was writing about "them" for that very reason. After a 
stunned moment he exploded with 'You can't do that! You can't be a lesbian 

and a minister! The Bible says " We engaged in this familiar, futile 

conversation for about ten minutes quoting Bible passages and claiming 

different sources of authority. I finally ended the conversation by 
acknowledging that we weren't going to agree, but that he seemed like a 
"good person, trying to live faithfully" and that I was too. We joked a bit 
about who was going to get to heaven first, and then parted. 

The perspective offered by the man on my right was supported not 
only by his new found ally, the born again Christian on my left... .but by 



centuries of Christian doctrine and assumption that equate women in general 
and lesbians in particular with much that is considered profane. Sexual, 
sensuous, earthy, dark, emotional, irrational, physical and "fallen" are 
qualities that have historically been associated with women in contrast to 
the white male associated spiritual, intellectual, rational and heavenly 
sphere. Given the fact that privileged males have themselves been the 
primary authors of these distinctions, it stands to reason that the latter has 
been interpreted as more valuable, trustworthy, holy and good. 

Within the framework of an historic vilification of the female and the 
sexual, the notion of lesbian clergy would seem shocking to one deeply 
rooted within that tradition. In spite of the inherent contradictions 
embodied in such an identity however, there are hundreds of lesbian clergy 
who have served and are currently serving congregations and institutions 
across every denomination that ordains women. Although exact figures are 
impossible to gather because of the rampant heterosexism and misogyny 
that undergird religious institutions and force many women to remain 
closeted, conservative speculation estimates that one in every ten ordained 
women are lesbian or have had lesbian encounters in their past or will in 
their future. Many of these women are leaders in their denominations; 
highly regarded and respected pastors and church officials who, in many 
cases, would lose status and often standing if they were to reveal their 
lesbian identities to any but a few trusted confidants. A very few others are 
open about their lesbianism and face blatant discrimination in ordination, job 
opportunities and career advancement possibilities. A handful of others are 
serving congregations or institutions as open lesbians and valued by their 
constituency for all their many gifts, including the insight and perspective 
their lesbianism affords them. 



The vast discrepancy between the number of lesbian clergy who are 
out, employed and valued and the majority who are forced to remain 
closeted to retain the respect they have earned is staggering in both number 
and implication. Denominations that officially refuse to ordain "self avowed, 
practicing homosexuals" are accepting them into the ranks of the clergy by 
the score as long as they remain closeted. Their gifts in ministry are clearly 
valued and their "calls" affirmed. This fact pertains to both lesbians and gay 
men and although there are obviously concerns that both communities share, 
lesbians are in a more vulnerable position than gay men due to 
institutionalized male privilege. The historic association in much of Christian 
theology between women, sexuality, passion, emotion and sin places lesbian 
clergy in a particularly complex contradiction. 

To explore the substance of this contradiction and the new paradigms 
emerging out of a more embodied spirituality, I gathered ten lesbian clergy 
together representing a variety of racial/ethnic, class and denominational 
backgrounds for a 24 hour working retreat to reflect upon our identities and 
to give voice to our experiences. The research component of this thesis is a 
description of that gathering and an offering of the insights shared. 

The following pages are divided up into five chapters and three 
appendices. In chapter one, I outline the basic assumptions of the feminist 
liberation perspective that is the methodological foundation of my work in 
general, and this inquiry in particular. In chapter two, I present aspects of 
my own story and the assumptions I bring to this investigation based on my 
own experience as a lesbian feminist clergy. In chapter three I review the 
components of phenomenologicai research and the specific methodology I 
used to plan and implement the gathering itself. Chapter four is a summary 
of the results; including the stories the participants shared, and an 



articulation of the themes that emerged in each discussion. Chapter five 
includes a presentation of the three metathemes that emerged and the 
implications that the findings hold from a feminist liberation perspective. 
Appendix A is a presentation of major protestant denominational statements 
regarding the ordination of lesbians and gay men. Appendix B is a brief 
description of each participant for quick reference purposes. Appendix C is 
an edited version of the focused discussions. 



CHAPTER ONE: FEMINIST LIBERATION THEOLOGY AND ETHICS 

My working class background, white privilege and evolving lesbian 
feminist identity have each profoundly shaped my experience of the world 
and understanding of God and faithfulness. I learned at a young age that 
"truth" and "justice'' were relative claims, and that hard work and personal 
integrity didn't always produce the security promised by the encompassing 
but evasive status quo. I am keenly aware of the social construction of 
power and powerlessness, and how various aspects of my identity merge to 
afford me a both privileged and marginalized posture. It is from this lens 
that I have found a home in a feminist liberation approach to ethics, 
theology and ministry, and the following is an articulation of the parameters 
of that perspective. 

Roots and Context 

The concept of liberation theology was first articulated in the early 
1970s by Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutierrez who represented the faith and 
struggles of poor Peruvian Catholics and their attempts to understand their 
poverty in light of their belief in a just and merciful God. The basic premise 
of liberation theology involves an examination of social constructions of 
power and authority as arenas to evaluate sin, redemption, justice and the 
activity of God in the world. In Latin America, the momentum of liberation 
theology is engendered by class struggle and the privilege of the poor to 
define their own reality and to articulate an agenda for change. 

In North America, Black and feminist theologies also emerged in the 
1970s out of Black and women's communities respectively as arenas to 
articulate the movement of God in a society wrought with institutionalized 



race and gender oppression. Feminist liberation theology is emerging out of 
feminist theology and expands the locus of analysis from gender oppression 
to a broader understanding of the social construction of power and 
powerlessness and the intersection of oppressions such as racism, class 
elitism, sexism and heterosexism. Major proponents of a Christian based 
feminist liberation theological (FLT) perspective include Carter Heyward, 
Beverly Harrison, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and Mary Hunt. Womanist 
liberation theology is being developed by Black women to articulate the 
distinctive experiences of racial/ethnic women from white feminist 
assumption. Major proponents of a womanist liberation perspective include 
Katie G. Cannon, Delores Williams and Jacqueline Grant. 

Who Do You Say God Is? 

Delores Williams told the following story to a gathering of campus 

ministers as an illustration of the subjective nature of the theological 

enterprise: 

There's a Black Baptist church in Alabama where the minister. 
Reverend Haines, begins each Sunday service by regally walking 
to the pulpit in his majestic blue robe and bellowing out to the 
congregation, "Who do you say God is!?" The ritual is that the fifty 
member choir seated in the back balcony then jumps up and re- 
sponds in full voice. "Lord of Lords! King of Kings! Father everlasting!" 
After a moment's pause, Reverend Haines roars a second time. "Who 
do you say God is!? H FoUowing the second inquiry. 93 year old Missy 
Jameson (who is a lifelong member and deacon of the church) slowly 
stands up from her seat in the third row. turns to the congregation 
and in a heartfelt but frail voice offers the familiar spiritual. "Sweet 
little Jesus boy ...born in a manger. Sweet little holy chile. ...we didn't 
know who you was." Reverend Haines repeats this sequence three 
times at the beginning of every Sunday service. He says that "It reminds 
us all of the many faces of God." * 



1 1 heard Dolores tell this story at a United Campus Ministry Conference at the 
University of Pennsylvania in July, 1987. 



Williams' illustration shows that even within a relatively homogeneous 
community, different interpretations/perceptions of the divine can 
characterize the theological enterprise in a creative and dynamic fashion. 
She contrasted this experience to dogmatic church doctrine and tradition that 
attempts to petrify the sacred into rigid and static icons and name them as 
Holy. 

An underlying premise of all liberation theological pursuits is the 
recognition of the subjective nature of the theological enterprise and the 
importance of grounding theological reflection in concrete human experience. 
Particular interpretations of the sacred (primarily developed by white 
privileged men) have historically been passed on as universally applicable; 
supposedly encompassing human rather than privileged male experience. 
Within this scenario, the voices of marginalized constituencies are lost under 
a veil of generalization and repression. Liberation theologians across 
distinctions have exposed this practice as evil by recognizing that it serves to 
maintain a status quo that solidifies structures of oppression as divinely 
ordained. A feminist liberation perspective specifically levels this critique 
against patriarchal structures that have served to silence and/or trivialize 
women's voices and experiences throughout the history of Christian thought. 

Basic Assumptions 

In her essay "Introduction to Feminist Theology: A Christian Feminist 
Perspective" [1984:2221 Carter Heyward developed the following nine 
methodological assumptions that inform her work as a feminist liberation 
theologian. Although she correctly states that "We can only speak for 
ourselves and let other voices join us inasmuch as we sing the same songs." I 
submit that Heywards articulation of the following has been "sung" in 



various forms by a host of feminist liberation theologians and can therefore 
be interpreted as representing somewhat of a basis for an FLT perspective. 
The following is a paraphrase and slight elaboration of her reflections: 

1 ) FLT is praxis centered. All constructive theology is done in the 

praxis of life experience beginning with particular lives, in the world. This 

assumption recognizes the subjective nature of all academic, social and 
historical inquiry as opposed to claims that objective scholarship is not only 
possible, but desirable. "The more theology reflects the specific and 
particular experience of those who shape it, the more credible theology is to 

others especially honest people seeking an honest God." [2251 Feminist 

liberation theology then, begins with and is rooted in the concrete, historical 
lives of women. 

2) FLT recognizes that theology is the "second act." (Gutierrez) 
It is preceded by the recognition of a serious problem (i.e. structural 
injustice) and a commitment to work toward its demise. 

3) FLT grants justice normative status in theology and 
ethics. Justice in this regard is defined as the moral act of love which 
requires mutuality or right-relationship between and among people 
whereby all parties are empowered as appropriate subjects of their own 
lives. By granting justice normative status, concepts such as sin and 
redemption are defined in relation to justice as opposed to scripture, church 
doctrine, etc. "All theological resources— including Bible, doctrine, discipline, 
etc.— can be employed creatively only to the extent that they further human 
well-being in a just society." [227] 

4) FLT assumes the existence of a just god/ess. "For some 
feminists, god is the source of justice; for others, the maker of justice; for 
others, justice itself: god is. justice." [227] 

5) FLT is a critical theology based in a "hermeneutic of 
suspicion." (Segundo) This perspective recognizes that the source of all 
ethical, moral and theological claims has a particular subjective bias that is 
often hidden under the guise of objectivity or the assumption of universal 
application (such as "divinely inspired.") A hermeneutic of suspicion names 
the necessity to assume and expose those underlying biases in order to 
discern the relevant meaning of the claim itself. 



8 



6) FLT is body-centered, embodied. In contrast to dualistic 
notions of an inherent distinction between spirit/body, intellect/emotion, etc. 
an embodied perspective recognizes that all knowledge is eiperientially 
based and mediated through our senses and within our bodyselves. 

7) FLT is fundamentally relational. This perspective recognizes 
that all living beings are found ationaily inter-related rather than 
autonomous and isolated. "I knew that if I cut a tree, my arm would bleed." 
(Shug in The Color Purple. ) 

8) FLT is a dynamic versus static enterprise. "A feminist 
theology of liberation bears witness to the dynamic, changing character of 
relation, and hence of theology itself. Moreover, feminist (liberation) 
theology moves in relation to a god who is relational (dynamic, changing, 
active.)" [228] In this vein, there are no credible theological "truths" that are 
universally applicable and by nature "timeless" in their relevance. 

9) FLT assumes that no doctrine or belief is immune from 
the aforementioned critiques. "Not God, not incarnation, not sin, not 
atonement." [228] Nothing is so "sacred" as to be above the necessity of 
constant scrutiny and dynamic change. 

I share Heyward's assumptions, and would like to add the following 
three reflections to the methodological underpinnings that inform my own 
work as a feminist liberation theologian/ethicist: 

10) FLT acknowledges e piste mological privilege. 

Epistemological privilege is the recognition that marginalized people have 
the right to name the sources of their own oppression and to articulate the 
appropriate agendas toward change. For example, this perspective 
recognizes the rights of Black South Africans (rather than Afrikaners or 
North Americans) to articulate the appropriate methods to combat apartheid. 

1 1) FLT incorporates a hermeneutic of social location. A 

hermeneutic of social location is the recognition that individuals and 
communities exist within a particular social-historical framework which 
defines identity in part, and shapes options in relation to systemic issues of 
privilege and marginalization. 



12) FLT incorporates a hermeneutic of difference. A 

hermeneutic of difference is the recognition that "difference" rather than 
"similarity" is the common thread of human experience and identity in 
relation to systemic issues of power and powerlessness. A hermeneutic of 
difference seeks to recognize and identify differences among varying 
cultures, races, sexualities etc, as inherently good: a wellspring of creative 
promise and possibility (where justice prevails) rather than a reality to be 
feared and therefore appropriated, trivialized or erased. 



Feminist Liberation Ethics 

Application of this method involves feminist liberation ethics which 

Beverly Harrison defines as: "A praxis (activity and reflection on that 

activity) of resistance to human oppression and struggle for human 

solidarity in light of women's concrete historical-cultural experience." 1 The 

recognition of oppression as a structural phenomenon requires more than 

"good intention" on the part of the privileged to act in morally defensible 

ways. The following story by Dorothee Soelle, a German Christian feminist 

theologian who grew up in Nazi Germany at the height of the Holocaust, 

illustrates this reality: 

I was a teenager when the allied troops liberated Auschwitz. The 
reality of the Holocaust was exposed in full view through pictures, 
radio reports and stories from survivors. I was horrified and 
couldn't understand why I'd never heard any information of 
this from my very politically involved and informed family members. 
When the news broke, I went to every adult relative I could find 
to ask "What did vou do to fight this evil?" "What was your response 

when all this was happening?" "What did you do to stop this murder?" 2 

Soelle reported that the consistency of each of their responses made her 
shudder. "I didn't know." "I never realized...." "We never knew." Upon 
reflection years later, she realized that some of them were lying because her 



1 Bev offered this definition in the "Feminist Liberation Ethics" course she taught at 
the Episcopal Divinity School in the Fall of 1987. 

2 I heard Dorothee tell this story at a fundraising event for Boston-Cambridge Ministry 
in Higher Education held at Harvard Divinity School in the Spring of 1984. 



10 



family was far too prominant and influential in her community for them not 
to have known. Indeed, she suspected some of being involved in the 
structural implementation of the Holocaust itself. But she also realized that 
those who honestly didn't know had the luxury afforded them by their 
privileged status as middle class, white, Christians to choose not to see. She 
recognized that if any in her family had been workers, or Jewish, or ethnic or 
openly gay or lesbian, they most certainly would have "known" because 
they would themselves have been at risk. The signs were everywhere. 
They just chose not to see them at all, or to not take them seriously." Soelle 
has devoted her life to "seeing" as a result of her early experiences. She is a 
prophetic peace activist and feminist theologian who lives and works in both 
West Germany and the United States. 

Soelle's reflections illustrate the depths of how social location shapes 
options, values and assumptions. The utter inadequacy of addressing issues 
of oppression as solely a personal and individual "fault" or "problem" is 
exposed, and the necessity to recognize the institutionalization of social 
constructions of power and powerlessness come into bold relief. From a 
feminist liberation ethical perspective, social location affects not only options 
and assumptions, but also dictates differing agendas of "conversion" toward 
embodying justice. I would like to add the following four assumptions 
related to social location that I bring to this enterprise from a specifically 
ethical perspective before offering two methodological paradigms that I have 
termed "Spirals of Conversion" as tools for ethical action and analysis. 

1 ) In order to engage both the personal and social dimensions of 
oppression, I join Robert Terry (1975) in distinguishing a definitional 
difference between prejudice and "ism" (i.e. racism, sexism, heterosexism, 
class elitism, etc.) 



11 



Prejudice: preconceived negative judgement or opinion. In 

relation to social location, any individual or group can hold prejudices: 
women against men/men against women, Blacks against whites/whites 
against Blacks, etc. 

Ism: institutionalized power plus prejudice; the power to 
institutionalize prejudice. By institutionalized power, I refer to issues of 
social location and access to material and social resources based on race, class 
background, gender, etc. From a social/historical perspective, 
institutionalized power refers to those constituencies who have historically 
been in positions of economic, political and religious influence so as to shape 
the norms and values of entire social structures. Concretely, issues 
surrounding social location and institutional power refer to questions such 
as: Who has historically controlled the economic resources of the nation? 
Who has served in influential political, religious and educational arenas? 
Who has written what we know as the "history" of the United States and 
what perspective is represented? Who has shaped social, religious and 
economic policy? 

With few exceptions, privileged white men have historically controlled 
the social institutions that have shaped what has been presented as 
normative values and assumptions for human well-being. They have held 
the "power" to "institutionalize" their "prejudices." In this regard, according 
to the above definitions only white people can be racist (for example) 
because white people have access to resources to institutionalize their 
prejudices. Blacks can be prejudiced against whites, but not racist because 
Blacks do not have the socially constructed power to institutionally enforce 
their perpsective. 



12 



2) Based on the above definitions, men have more socially 
constructed power than do women, whites have more socially constructed 
power than do people of color, economically privileged people have more 
socially constructed power than do economically disadvantaged people, 
heterosexual people have more socially constructed power than do open 
lesbians, gay men or bisexual persons, etc. This reality represents the 
unequal distribution of social and economic resources in a society historically 
riddled with race, class, gender and sexual oppression. To illustrate some of 
the implications of this state of affairs, Manning Marable has written the 
following "parable" entitled "Between the Races" (1980:229) which 
demonstrates this perspective specifically in regard to racism in an advanced 
capitalist economy. 

Two runners are on the track preparing for the first of two important 
races. One is black; one is white. Both have trained many years for these 
celebrated races. Both are looking forward to the spirited competition 
and to the handsome cash prize given to the victor. 

Before either runner can postion himself in his starting blocks, several 
conscientious officials run onto the field. The black runners legs are 
chained together. The gun is fired suddenly and the white runner trots 
away. The black runner languishes far behind. He cannot stand, he 
can barely crawl. His muscled legs are cut and bloodied from the con- 
stant rubbing against the rusty irons. 

The white runner reaches the halfway point around the track, when a 
sympathetic black spectator realizes the injustice of the contest. He 
runs down to the track, grabs a metal ball from the shot put area and 
gives it to the black man. The black runner smashes his shackles. He 
stands and begins to quickly narrow the distance between himself and 
his sole competitor. As the white runner is turning the bend toward 
home, the black runner is approaching the halfway point. Closer and 
closer he comes to the white runner. The finish tape is clearly in sight. 
Finally, the white runner surges forward, defeating the black runner 
by a few steps. 

The black runner argues loudly that the race was not at all fair or sport- 
manlike. The white runner disagrees: the rules of the race call for one 
of the runners to wear ankle irons throughout the contest. It was an 
unfortunate accident of fate that the black runner received the chains 
and that the white runner did not. But certainly, the white runner 



13 



insists, rules are rules. The race was designed by fair and impartial 
gentlemen. The race was a national institution and public celebration, 
designed for the amusement and pleasure of the general public. "Surely, 
you are not questioning the traditions, the customs and the authority of 
the race?" the white runner asked in amazement. 

"Exactly so." states the black runner. "The rules of this game must be 
revised. What I desire," he argues, "is equality between our races." 

"Long before we began training for this race," the white runner re- 
sponds, "you knew that our respective positions were to be separate but 
equal. Why, you know the old saying: "We can be separate as the fingers 
yet one in the hand in all matters of mutual athletics." 

The officials of the games congregate, disagreeing amongst themselves 
what course of action to follow. One junior official, the sole black man, 
suggests cautiously that the white runner be allowed to keep the large 
cash purse for his victory, but that the race be declared a draw. The 
senior official disagrees intensely. "The black runner should recieve 
nothing, and should possibly be banned from further competition. 
Indeed, he violated every code of his race by deliberately breaking his 
chains!" he says. The spectator who had run onto the field of play 
illegally had already been arrested and was in the local police station 
awaiting criminal charges. "The black runner must be penalized in 
some way." Still another official believed that the white runner should 
donate some small portion of his prize to the black mans children and 
that the entire incident be erased from the official proceedings. 

Finally, the perfect solution is reached. Both runners are ordered to 
return to the starting line for the second race. The white runner is 
allowed to keep both the first place prize and is declared the winner of 
the first race. The black runner will be neither punished nor rewarded 
for his actions. Henceforth, no runner will be bound by chains. 

All the participants including most spectators in the stands agree that 
the decision is both fair and just—save the black runner. "The white 
runner should be penalized by wearing my chains, at least through 
a brief portion of the second race," he insists. "Those are the rules of 
the race. You said so yourself. Look at your own rulebooks, if you dare 
to. Either the white runner should wear these chains in this race, or 
I should collect the prize from the first race." 

All of the officials, including the black one. disagree. "That would not 
be exactly fair, now would it?" he explains. "You wanted equality. You 
even broke your chains for equality. Now you've got it." 

The black runner continues, "But those old chains bit into my legs, 
cutting deep wounds and leaving bruises. I may not be able to run well 
this time. Certainly I should be compensated in some significant way." 

"There is nothing in our rulebooks about compensation to injured players." 
a white official interjects. "You run the race, you assume the risks. We 
know the rulebook; we wrote the rules for our race." 



14 



"I hate to be troublesome." the black runner persists, limping slowly 
back toward the starting point. "But it seems to me that the white runner 
could be forced to start perhaps five to ten yards behind me in the second 
race. My legs are swollen and still bleeding. It would only be fair." 

"Of course it would be fair, my boy." awhile official smiles, placing his 
arm around the black runners shoulders. "But it wouldn't be equal. 
That's what you've been asking for all along, isn't it? All runners will 
be considered equal in all future races, endowed only with their physical 
abilitites in their pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. Besides," he adds, 
"there is no such thing as perfect equality between all races." 

An impatient official looks at his watch. A gun is raised and fired. The 
second race begins. l 

Marbles illustration shows how institutionalized oppression impacts the 
structure of assumption itself, and how that dimension must be addressed if 
justice is to be realized. 

3) Cornel West developed the term "normative gaze" [1982] to denote 
how the reflections of white philosophers and historians has been 
interpreted as "normative" of human agency and thus universally applicable 
regarding standards of morality and behavior. He challenges this 
assumption and exposes how the "normative gaze" is riddled with white 
supremacist supposition which represents Black experience and cultural 
values as deficient and inherently inferior. I would like to incorporate and 
expand his term to represent how the normative gaze includes biases 
related to gender, class and sexuality in addition to race, and how those 
biases form a web of assumption that maintains social structures that 
presuppose a dominant/subordinate model of power, relationship and 
authority. 



* Manning Marable, "Postscript: Between the Races-A Parable" in From the Grassroots: 
Social and Political Essavs Towards Afro-American Liberation (Boston: South End Press, 
1980), pp. 229-31. 



15 



4) One's social location in relationship to various forms of socially 
constructed power/powerlessness dictates (in part) appropriate agendas 
toward pursuing justice and acting in morally defensible ways within that 
framework. The following paradigms illustrate this perspective. 

Spirals of Conversion 

I developed the following "Spirals of Conversion" as paradigms to 
illustrate how social location affects ethical behavior when institutionalized 
forms of oppression are assumed and operative. 

Generally speaking, the agenda of justice for socially marginalized 
groups and individuals involves purging the internalization of hatred 
engendered by the normative gaze, and reconstructing alternative and 
empowering sources of identity and authority specific to marginalized 
aspects of social location. The broad agenda for socially privileged 
individuals and communities is to define the normative gaze as 
representative rather than universal, to articulate and commit to justice as a 
normative enterprise, and to utilize afforded privileges to the benefit of 
dismantling the structures that created them in the first place and which 
continue to uphold privileges for a few at the expense of many. 

The "Spirals of Conversion" are spirals because they indicate an 
ongoing dynamic endeavor rather than a one time journey with a distinctive 
destination. Each movement around the circle engenders change in ones 
consciousness, so that subsequent encounters with the various stages are 
never the same. 



16 



Socially Marginalized 

Name incongruity. 

* 

Act in movement from* * Identify normative gaze: 

margin to center. message and messenger. 

Moment of conversion.* *Name empowering sources 

of identity. 



Begin purging internalized hatred 
by deflecting normative gaze v/ history, analysis, etc. 



1 ) Name incongruity between what you are told about yourself 
(through media representation, history, books, etc.) and what you, yourself 
experience to be true. For example, I was taught that lesbianism is immoral, 
unnatural and perverse. I experienced my first relationship with a woman 
as affirming, loving and empowering. 

2) Identify normative gaze: message and messenger. Name 
the subjective nature of what was taught as objective and universal. 
Identify both message (i.e. lesbianism is wrong) and messenger (i.e. the 
church, the medical profession, etc.) in an effort to expose the underlying 
power dynamic and name who benefits from maintenance of the prevailing 
structure. 

3) Name empowering sources of identity. By dispelling the 
normative gaze, new and empowering sources of identity and authority need 
to be recognized and acknowledged. Naming formative role models, 
recovering lost histories, identifying with other marginalized constituencies 
and learning to trust experience as a source of authority are all valuable 
tools in claiming an empowered identity. 



17 



4) Begin purging internalized hatred. Shift authority from the 
normative gaze to empowered experiences of identity. Recognize this as a 
process that requires consistent and ongoing intention and analysis. 

5) Experience a moment of conversion. The recognition in an 
experiential arena of pride in empowered identity. One moment of 
conversion for me as a lesbian happened when I came out to myself and 
claimed my lesbian identity. 

6) Act in movement from margin (reactive based in normative gaze) 
to center (proactive based in empowered identity.) I decided to publicly 
come out as a lesbian from a prideful rather than shamed experience of 
myself. 

Socially Privileged 

Name operative values and intentions. 

Concrete action.* 'Recognize "normative gaze" 

as own. 

Moment of conversion * *Educate self and others. 

Articulate self interest. 

1) Name operative values and intentions. In Dorothee Soelles 
story, she made a distinction between the relatives that she suspected were 
intentionally involved in the implementation of the Holocaust and those who 
were accomplices by default based in ignorance. Although good intention 
alone is not a sufficient tool in itself to combat the complexities of 
institutionalized oppression, it is a crucial point of departure to enter into the 
task. Naming operative values and assumptions simply means the necessity 
to clearly recognize what one's personal moral and ethical standards entail. 



18 



White supremacists have no interest in combating racism whereas a white 
liberal or moderate may consciously abhor racism but not recognize how 
his/her actions contribute to racist assumption. Movement through the rest 
of this paradigm assumes a conscious commitment to the ideals of justice. 

2) Recognize the normative gaze as own. For socially privileged 
individuals and communities, the normative gaze will often reflect their own 
perspective. Intentional recognition and naming of how the normative gaze 
represents a particular rather than universal experience is an important step 
in deconstructing imposed normative assumption. As a white person, I will 
not recognize subtle forms of racism in my own or other's behavior unless I 
assume that racist assumption is consistently operative and I choose to 
recognize it. Given the normative gaze, I need to intentionally choose to 
"unlearn'' racist assumptions that I have learned in subtle and blatant form 
since my childhood. This requires developing a type of "third eye'' as a 
constant tool to "see" beyond my own immediate experience. 

3) Educate self and others. Once recognition of the normative 
gaze is assumed, it is crucial to become educated about other cultures, 
histories, values and experiences that are hidden under the universality of 
imposed privileged assumption and perspective. I began educating myself 
about other racial/ethnic experiences by reading primary source material, 

attending cultural events, and listening to voices of color even and 

especially when they challenge me regarding my own racist behavior, 
however unconscious or unintentional. As a white woman, it is also my 
place to educate other white people about unconscious racist assumption, the 
normative gaze and tools to begin to unlearn internalized racist attitudes and 
behaviors. It is not the primary responsibility of socially marginalized 
constituencies to "teach" socially privileged individuals and communities 



19 



about the the latter 's discriminatory behavior. It is not the responsibility of 
people of color to teach white people about white racism. People of color 
have another agenda which addresses how to creatively survive and flourish 
while working to transform a social structure that attempts to hinder their 
self determination at every turn. 

4) Articulate self interest. In order to avoid perpetuating a 

dominant/ subordinate assumption by exhibiting paternalistic behavior, it is 

crucial for socially privileged constituencies to articulate how it is in their 

best interest to dismantle oppressive structures. Notions of altruism or a 

philosophical belief in justice may serve as sparks for entry into the journey, 

but unless socially privileged individuals and communities recognize how 

structures that ostensively offer them privileges are also ultimately 

destructive to their own well-being, patronizing attitudes and behaviors will 

dominate motivations toward change. I recognize for example, that the same 

tools utilized to perpetuate racist assumptions and attitudes are also utilized 

against me as a woman and as a lesbian. It is therefore in my best interest 

to challenge structures that perpetuate dominant/subordinate models of 

power and relationship in any manifestation. The recognition of the 

intersection of oppressions is a crucial key toward dismantling the structures 

that keep marginalized constituencies divided against one another and 

competing for access into a system that by definition will never fully be 

afforded. Articulation of self interest involves a glimpse into the recognition 
of the interdependence of all creation. 

5) Moment of conversion. The intentional recognition of a new 
layer of interdependency often causes a moment of conversion, or slight shift 
in focus and/or priorities. Naming this shift is an important tool in 
movement toward justice. Soon after I began anti-racism work in my own 



20 



life I decided to work with battered women in a predominantly Black 
neighborhood. After four months of working there a Black friend and co- 
worker approached me with the question of what my motivations were for 
focusing my efforts in "her" community. Her challenge was well founded and 
I experienced a moment of conversion after being pushed to articulate my 
own self interest. That naming helped me recognize my own personal 
investment in dismantling racism and my particular place as a white woman 
in that struggle. I left that predominantly Black community and began doing 
anti-racism work with white professionals. 

6) Act in a concrete way toward dismantling the normative gaze and 
attendant institutionalized bigotry. 

The above paradigms are tools to begin to articulate the various 
dimensions of identities related to social location. They are neither 
exhaustive of the possibilities and motivations for moral agency nor are they 
mutually exclusive. Most individuals embody both marginalized and 
privileged aspects of identity which dictate options and inform parameters 
of choice. The "Spirals of Conversion" are meant to serve as sources to begin 
to unpack the affects that social location hold in relation to moral agency and 
ethical posture for those committed to justice as a normative enterprise. 



21 



CHAPTER TWO: PERSONAL PRAXIS AND LOCATION 



My own interest in this subject grows out of my evolving identity as a 
lesbian feminist clergy, ordained in the Christian Chruch (Disciples of Christ.) 
I have been out as a lesbian for over twelve years and was ordained in 
1984. 

For the two years prior to my ordination, I worked as an assistant 
minister in an affluent church in a white suburb of Boston. Although I never 
overtly lied about my sexuality to members of that community, I did not 
think it was necessary or appropriate for me to directly raise it as an issue 
either. In short, given the controversy it would have raised 1 felt it wasn't 

important enough to make waves in that particular arena especially 

because I was already controversial enough as a feminist liberation 
theologian. I believed that my feminist commitments fully represented my 
theological and vocational integrity, and that my sexuality was and could 
remain a more "private" affair. I was out in every other aspect of my life, 
including seminary. 

My relationship with that community was rich and rewarding in many 
respects, but I found my energies feeling increasingly drained over the two 
years of my tenure there. Although I was highly respected by the 
congregation and had formed many deep bonds of friendship, at the end of 
my two years I was dangerously weary. It became increasingly difficult to 
muster any enthusiasm at all for my work, and I counted the days until my 
resignation took affect. The congregation enthusiastically supported my 
ordination and wanted to create a new position to keep me on as an associate 
minister. I declined their generous offer and left that community in what 



22 



felt like the knick of time for my mental and emotional well being....aithough 
I didn't quite understand why that was the case. 

I approached my ordination interviews with the same perspective. I 
never actively tried to "hide'' my sexual identity but I didn't make an 
explicit point to raise it either. It was not that I was afraid of the 

consequences that I might not get ordained or that I feared a long political 

battle. I just didn't think it was relevant to my particular theological/faith 
journey. I was very committed to representing a strong feminist position 

that I knew was certainly informed by my lesbianism but I felt as though 

by articulating a feminist stance I was adequately presenting the relevant 
aspects of my self-identity. I was perfectly willing to honestly respond to 
any questions that might be raised, and in fact expected that they would be 
given my political involvements and affiliations. But they didn't ask and I 
didn't offer. I was ordained in 1984 as an open, "absent" 1 lesbian. 

The summer following my ordination I was faced with the vocational 
question of what form of ministry I felt called to pursue. My experience in 
the parish haunted me and I didn't understand which aspect(s) of that 
experience contributed to my emotional and spiritual exhaustion. I 
eventually articulated that it was probably the combination of being an 
absent lesbian in an affluent liberal parish setting whereby the only points 
of identity that I shared with the majority of congregants was my 
educational background and racial privilege. Their commitment to liberalism 
challenged them to engage the feminist perspective I represented, but in 
general they felt at home in the church in a way I never did. In the end I 
felt very lonely in the journey, and later wondered whether being more 



1 By "absent" I'm referring to not being actively present as a lesbian. 



23 



open would have helped me feel more related. As a result, I decided to 
pursue work in campus or community ministry as an open, present lesbian 
feminist clergy. I began serving as the Protestant Chaplain at Brandeis 
University in the Fall of 1984. 

The first two years of my four years at Brandeis were exciting and 
fulfilling. There were controversial moments related to my political 
activities (i.e. divestment, Central America, institutional racism, sexual 
harassment) and my lesbian identity, but for the most part the community 
was thriving and my relationship with the administration was characterized 
by mutual respect and a particular comradery. I received outstanding 
evaluations with consistent and generous pay increases. At the beginning of 
my third year however, a pivotal event catapulted me into a different type 
of relationship to my own self identity, my ministry and consequently the 
administration of the university. 

In October of 1986, the entire community's eight year effort to divest 
university holdings from companies doing business in South Africa was met 
with a firm and unequivocable "no" from the President and the Board of 
Trustees. They overrode faculty, student and alumni/ae referenda without 
explanation and failed to respond to two carefully constructed reports 
offering alternative investment possibilities and the moral/ethical criteria 
that undergirded the divestment effort. All three Chaplains (myself and the 
Jewish and Catholic clergymen) had been very active in the divestment 
movement, and we felt called to respond to the administrations statement in 
spite of its finality. We staged an escalating three phase hunger strike which 
coincided with a daily vigil outside of the president's office. The strike 
culminated in a two week fast that only the Chaplains participated in. 



24 



The decision to undergo the fast and the fast itself had a profound 
effect on me and my understanding of social location, faith and commitment. 
I realized that until the fast, most of my ministry had been characterized by 
fighting against various social and institutional evils, particularly in 
relationship to my own identity as a lesbian clergywoman. I was somewhat 
loathe to admit to people who didn't know me very well that I was an 
ordained minister because I detested the assumptions that were often made 
about me in that role; particularly assumptions such as conservative, 
heterosexual, pious, fundamentalist, male identified and naive. In response, 
I spent more energy defensively defining what I wasn't and what I didn't 
stand for than I did representing what I held dear. Clearly this is not an 
either/or distinction. The impetus for the initial recognition that "something 
is wrong" always comes out of the "sacred yes;" a deep inner knowledge of 
something more whole. But articulating that underlying belief as the point 
of departure is, I believe, a radical faith stance. The Chaplains' joint decision 
to engage in the fast didn't grow out of the expectation that we would be 
able to reverse the decision of the Board (although that was always a hope.) 
It rather grew out of the need to witness to what we believed in— in spite of 
whether it would be strategically effective. In short, we decided to make a 
slight but profound paradigm shift from fighting "against" to witnessing "for." 
That move made us much more radical and threatening to the administration 
because we no longer assumed their agenda as the focus of our efforts. We 
stopped strategizing about how to change their minds, and began to move 
out of a witness posture that was still aimed at divestment but didn't require 
movement on the part of the Board of Trustees to make the witness itself 
worthwhile. Because of the consistent witness efforts on the part of the 
entire community, the Board did eventually reverse their decision in May of 



25 



1987, and divested University holdings in companies doing business in South 
Africa. 

That paradigm shift took affect in ail aspects of my ministry. Rather 
than responding from a defensive posture which gave center stage to the 
worst of what I think the church and clerics often represent, I simply began 
acting out of my own understanding of empowerment and an integrated 
spirituality. Rather than trying to justify to Christian traditionalists why 
being a lesbian and a clergy isn't necessarily contradictory, I just started 
acting as though it wasn't. Rather than defending why I don't interpret the 
Bible literally, or assume Jesus is lhe_ Christ and divine, or why I don't 
believe that God is wholly omnipotent, I simply began assuming the 
legitimacy of those perspectives as informed by a host of feminists and 
liberationists from numerous faith perspectives. In short, I shifted the locus 
of authority from the traditional to the liberatory, which is primarily a shift 
from fighting against what I don't believe in to witnessing for that which I 
hold sacred. That paradigm shift afforded me the opportunity to integrate 
my lesbian identity with my faith commitments and theological assumptions 
in a new and radical way. The movement toward an increased embodiment 
opened new avenues of energy and creativity within me while 
simultaneously exposing me to even greater depths of how misogyny and 
homophobia lie at the very core of Christian thought and tradition. 
Ironically, the contradiction that I shielded myself from by living a 
somewhat more compartmentalized existence was no longer veiled, and the 
stark reality of the fundamental antithesis between traditional Christian 
theology and embodied lesbian existence was stunning at first insight. 

Our community at Brandeis grew over the next two years in both 
number and influence, but the majority of the constituents did not identify 



26 



themselves as Christian in any primary way, and many didn't identify 
themselves as Christian at all. The growing presence of Christian 
fundamentalism on campus represented the opposite pole of conservative 
theology, and as the Protestant Chaplain I was expected to don the liberal 
posture of supporting pluralism. I was able to do so until the 
fundamentalists organized to have me dismissed because in their opinion I 
wasn't qualified to be the Protestant Chaplain due to my radical theology and 
lesbian identity. I had too much support within the university community 
for their initial plan to succeed, so they shifted their focus against the 
worship community and our eligibility to receive university funds. The two 
communities were polarized in a very pure and honest representation of 
differing theological assumptions that are foundational^ contradictory. The 
Christian fundamentalists drew their authority from literal interpretations of 
scripture and conservative church doctrine and discipline. The radical 
Christians drew their authority from a more fluid understanding of faith 
based in a belief in embodied spirituality, historical relativism and 
consistently emergent experiences of the divine. Differing claims to 
theological authority have characterized Christian history and tradition since 
its inception, and the tension between orthodox doctrine and ongoing 
incarnation/revelation has itself formed the history of Christian thought. 
Embodied within the conflict between those two communities however, was 
an almost archetypal representation of the polar extremes of that tension: 
conservative iconociasm and radical relativism. In the midst of that conflict 
I began to question whether a radical embodied theology was so far out on 
the margins of what could be understood as Christian that articulating the 
connection alone required more energy than it was worth. In that particular 
situation, the administration required such an articulation in an ongoing and 



27 



consistent manner to justify the radical community as Christian and 
therefore eligible to receive funding designated for Christian groups and 
activities. Inititally, I did exert energy to articulate those connections but 
later began to question the efficacy of such an endeavor. It required an 
immense amount of energy with little personal satisfaction within that 
particular arena. I felt very invested in the community itself, but less and 
less invested in justifying it as "Christian" against the backdrop of a growing 
conservative fundamentalist assumption. I decided to resign in the Fall of 
1988 to pursue these crucial questions within the context of a liberation 
based theological community. Thus, the initial stirrings of what has now 
become the foundation for this thesis. 

Assumptions 

Specifically, I come to this endeavor with the following assumptions: 

1 ) Traditional Christian theology is predicated on a disembodied, 
dualistic and alienated understanding of spirituality and power. Distinctions 
between God/humanity, intellect/emotion, spirit/body, man/woman, 
human/nature, white/black, heaven/earth and the relative value 
associations that place the former in each category as superior to the latter 
are all examples of dualistic assumptions that are so pervasive as to be 
interpreted as normative in Christian theology and practice. I join numerous 
feminist liberation theologians in challenging such dichotomies as both false 
and destructive of the sacred possibility and potential manifest among us. 

2) Within the framework articulated above, lesbian clergy embody an 
inherent contradiction. Women, in general, have been historically associated 
with the latter clasifications: dark, earthy, emotional, sexual, sinful. Because 



28 



lesbians do not conform to prescribed sexual and cultural roles that define 
women primarily in relation to men, lesbians culturally represent those 
qualities in quintessential form; veritable icons of much that is traditionally 
considered profane. On the other hand, clergy represent "the sacred" in 
varying forms across denominations and interpretations. Within a 
traditional perspective, therefore, the notion of lesbian clergy is 
fundamentally antithetical. 

3) Given the above, lesbian clergy pose an enormous threat to dualistic 
assumptions regarding the nature of the sacred while simultaneously 
offering new insight into the profound implications of what an embodied 
spirituality might entail. 

4) Movement toward an embodied spirituality is a process...a journey 
away from the dismembered alienation that is woven into the fabric of our 
common assumption and experience toward an embodied 
sexuality/sensuality that recognizes the essential inter-relatedness of ail of 
creation. 1 For lesbians, "coming out" is the process of shedding the 
internalized homophobia that so distinctly forces us to live 
compartmentalized and dismembered lives toward an integrated, embodied 
existence whereby the sacred emerges through rather than in spite of what 
Audre Lorde terms the erotic. 2 Given the rampant heterosexism and 



1 Carter Heyward gives voice to this perspective in her forthcoming article entitled 
"Coming Out and Relational Empowerment: A Lesbian Feminist Theological Perspective." 
It will be published by the Stone Center. Weilesley College. 1989 

2 In her now classic essay, "Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power" ( 1984:33) Lorde 
defines the erotic in the following way: "There are many kinds of power, used and 
unused, acknowledged or otherwise. The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies 
in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed 
or unrecognized feeling. In order to perpetuate itself, every oppression must corrupt 
or distort those various sources of power within the culture of the oppressed that can 
provide evergy for change. For women, this has meant a suppression of the erotic as a 
considered source of power and information within our lives." (53) 



29 



misogyny that undergird religious and social institutions, "coming out" is an 
ongoing endeavor for all lesbians and doesn't simply refer to one's public 
disclosure of sexual identity. 

5) Given the assumption of an alienated existence, I believe there is a 
direct correlation between coming out and experiences of embodied 
spirituality. In other words, the more closeted and therefore 
compartmentalized a woman is, the more able she is to identify with 
traditional dualistic and alienated spiritual and theological assumptions. 
Conversely, a woman who is more open and able to celebrate her lesbianism 
the more traditional spiritual paradigms become inadequate and new sacred, 
embodied dimensions emerge. 



30 



CHAPTER THREE: RESEARCH METHODOLOGY 

THEORY 

This research focuses on lesbian clergy/ ministers and their self 
identity. I've chosen a phenomenological approach because of the 
exploratory nature of this initial study and because phenomenological 
methodology seems most compatible with the feminist liberation values and 
assumptions which underlie this investigation. Phenomenology is a form of 
naturalistic 1 (as opposed to experimental 2 ) inquiry whereby the goal of the 
research is understanding rather than truth. Basic aspects of a 
phenomenological approach include the following: 

1) It is descriptive rather than empirical in nature. Kant's distinction 
between objects and events as they appear in our experience and objects 
and events as they appear in themselves is the foundation of this concept. 
He concluded that we can only "know" the former, which he termed 
phenomena. Edmund Hesserl, with others, developed phenomenology as a 
school of philosophy and produced numerous papers in Germany between 
1913 and 1930 elaborating on Kant's initial construct. 

2) The participants' subjective reality is the focus of inquiry. Their 
own experience of the phenomena being studied is the data itself. Susan 
DeMattos 3 emphasizes this distinction as a focus on hypothesis formation 



1 Naturalistic inquiry is process oriented and descriptive. It has been developed out of 
the scientific school of naturalism which is the doctrine that cause and effect lavs (as 
of physics and chemistry) are adequate to account for all phenomena and that 
telelogical conceptions of nature (ends are immanent) are invalid. (Webster) 

2 Experimental inquiry is a method of research in the social sciences in which a 
controlled experimental factor is subjected to special treatment for purposes of 
comparison with a factor kept constant. (Webster) 

3 Susan made this distinction in a conversation regarding methodology in November, 
1988. 



31 



versus hypothesis testing; allowing the participants themselves to articulate 
the parameters of inquiry. (Consistent with e piste mological privilege.) 

3) The researcher's participation in shaping/affecting the phenomena 
is assumed and articulated. In contrast to the image of researcher as 
detatched and objective, a phenomenological approach recognizes the 
dialogical relationship between researcher and subject. This concept 
"assumes that the researcher is in a spontaneous, receptive relationship with 
the participant: this kind of relationship encourages the researcher to elicit 
the participant's cooperation in developing an accurate reflection of the 
persons experience." (Hunnisett 1986: 256) (Consistent with feminist 
challenge that scholarship/history, etc. are not objective, detatched, solely 
empirical.) 

4) Events and experiences are understood within their larger, 
relational matrix rather than isolated, independent phenomena. (Consistent 
with theories related to social location.) 

Several feminist theorists have specifically undertaken the task of 
challenging conventional research paradigms as inadequate tools to 
articulate the experiences and interests of women. They primarily focus on 
experimental vs. naturalistic methodologies; the former considered more 
"scientific" and more widely incorporated. In her essay, "Interviewing 
Women: a Contradiction in Terms," 1 Ann Oakley critiques experimental 
criteria set forth for interviewing which include 1 ) that the interviewer 
should remain objective: soliciting information but never disclosing any. 2) 
That the subject of the interview become an object of data collection and 3) 
that the interview itself has no social significance beyond its use as data. In 



1 Ann Oakley. "Interviewing Women: A Contradiction in Terms" in Roberts, ed. Doing 
Feminist Research (Nev York: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981) pp. 30-61. 



32 



her research on motherhood, Oakley discovered that experimental paradigms 
were inadequate and in fact, "morally indefensible." (p.41) She discovered 
that the creation of a more mutual, intimate relationship between 
interviewer and subject produced more honest and accurate results and that 
"personal involvement" by the researcher is an essential element in avoiding 
subject exploitation. 

Shuiamit Reinharz has developed a paradigm entitled "experiential 
analysis" in contrast to what she termed "conventional or patriarchal" 
models primarily used in sociological research. 1 ("Conventional/patriarchal' 

models are descriptive of the experimental approach.) In the following 

< 

chart, she sets forth the contrasting claims of each paradigm: 



Conventional 



Experiential 



♦Exclusively rational in the conduct of 
research and analysis of data. 



Scientific 



♦ A mix of rational, serendipitous and 
intuitive phenomena in research and 
analysis. 

♦ Accurate but artistic. 



♦Oriented to carefully defined structures. +0riented to process. 



♦Completely impersonal. 

♦Oriented to the prediction and control 
of events and things. 

♦ Interested in the validity of research 
findings for scholars. 



►Objective 



♦Personal. 



♦Oriented to understanding phenomena. 



♦ Interested in the meaningfulness of 
research findings to the scholarly and 
user communities. 

♦A mix of objective 2 and subjective 
orientations. 



1 Shuiamit Reinharz. "Experiential Analysis: A Contribution to Feminist Research" in 
Bowles, Klein, eds., Theories of Women's Studies (Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 
1983) pp. 162-191. 

2 I would challenge Reinharz on this distinction. I'm not certain what an "objective" 
orientation actually entails in reality. 



33 



♦Capable of producing generalized 
principles. 

♦ Interested in replicable events and 
procedures. 

♦Capable of producing completed 
analysis of a research problem. 

♦ Interested in addressing problems 
with predefined concepts. 



♦Capable of producing specific 
explanations. 

♦ Interested in unique although 
frequently occurring phenomena. 

♦Limited to producing partial discoveries 
of ongoing events. 

♦ Interested in generating concepts in 
vivo, in the field itself. 



Generally speaking, many of the proposals set forth by Oakley and 
Reinharz are consistent with a phenomenological approach, but they and 
other feminist theorists 1 specifically articulate the process dimension of the 
entire undertaking. They underscore the intersubjectivity of researcher and 
subject, and imply that an important dimension of any research endeavor is 
the recognition that all parties are changed by the process/experience itself. 
Colaizzi (a significant figure in the development of phenomenological 
methodology) touches on this theme when he stated the necessity for 
researchers to "interrogate (their) presuppositions'" (1978) in order to 
identify biases and self interests. But feminist theorists carry this notion one 
step further by acknowledging that the articulated presuppositions, biases 
and self interests should change somewhat throughout the course of the 
experience itself. In addition, feminist theorists state that the research 
should have social impact as well as scholarly merit, thereby expanding the 
locus of accountability to include the subject population. 

A feminist adaptation of phenomenological inquiry seemed the most 
appropriate methodology to incorporate for this study. As exploratory 
research, it is crucial that the parameters of inquiry be articulated by the 
subjects themselves. Although I am myself a lesbian clergy, I recognize that 



1 c.f . Hunnisett, Tesch and DeMattos 



34 



I cannot speak for the diversity of lesbian clergy by assuming that my 
critical questions are fully representative of those my sisters might 
articulate. I therefore adopted a phenomenological approach rather than a 
primarily qualitative one whereby I would have framed the parameters of 
inquiry alone rather than allowing them to emerge out of the entire group. 



APPLICATION 

Group Versus Individual Interviews 

I had initially planned to conduct individual interviews with twelve 
lesbian clergy representing a diversity of racial/ethnic, class and 
denominational backgrounds. Soon into my research on methodology 
however, I realized that it would be more appropriate for the purposes of 
the study to organize a gathering whereby all participants could meet as a 
group and together engage the issues related to our contradictory identities. 
One of the main issues lesbian clergy face is isolation. It is rare to have the 
opportunity to meet with other religiously affiliated lesbians in general and 
virtually impossible to meet with other lesbian clergy across denominations 
in an intentionally lesbian context. I thought that aside from the 
opportunity for empowerment that such a gathering would afford, it would 
also provide an atmosphere for a more creative and honest probing into 
what our identities as lesbian clergy implied within the midst of our 
diversity as well as our similarity. 

For group interviews, it is crucial to have a co-facilitator to help focus 
the discussion and to perceive subtle group dynamics. From a 
methodological point of view the co-facilitator would usually be someone 
outside of the subject population so as to offer an outsider's perspective on 



35 



procedure and coherence. But for the purposes of this particular study, I felt 
that it was important that the co-facilitator be 1) lesbian so as to inspire 
group confidence and comfort and that she 2) be a person of color so that the 
leadership of the gathering itself would in some ways represent the subject 
population. Given the inherent racism and heterosexism that operate as 
normative assumption even among "liberal" populations, I felt as though it 
was crucial to the success of the project that this reality be addressed 
directly via leadership representation. It would have been foolish to bring a 
heterosexual woman or a man of any sexual orientation into a gathering of 
lesbians who rarely have an opportunity to meet as lesbians together and 
alone. In the same vein, it would have been irresponsible to convene a 
gathering intentionally designed to represent racial/ethnic diversity and 
have two white co-facilitators. Given all these considerations, I invited 
Cheryl Giles to be co-facilitator. Cheryl is a Black lesbian feminist who is 
theologically trained and completing her doctorate in psychotherapy. Her 
skills as a facilitator, her knowledge of the issues raised due to her 
theological training, her "outsider" status as a psychotherapist and her firm 
feminist commitments made her an excellent person to move into such a 
delicate role. 

Choice of Participants 

I felt it was crucial to represent as much diversity in this exploratory 
study as possible, recognizing that race, class, age, disclosure 1 and 
denominational affiliation are also critical determinants of identity and social 
location. I specifically set out to recruit twelve women representing 



'By "disclosure" I am referring to whether women are in or out of the closet. 



36 



differing racial/ethnic, denominational and disclosure backgrounds with the 
breakdown represented by the chart below. 

white women white women women of color women of color 
in out in out 



X» X X* 

X» X X» 

X V X 



Congregational 


x« 


Presbyterian 


X* 


Episcopacy 


x» 


X - ideal 




* - actual 





Definition of lesbian clergy: Women who are self-identified 
lesbians who consider their primary vocation as ministry and are related to 
a mainstream Protestant denomination were eligible to participate in this 
study. This definition could (and did) include women who are still in 
seminary and in the process of pursuing ordination, women who are 
ordained and pursuing a teaching vocation as a form of ministry, and women 
who are ordained and serving in local churches or denominational capacities. 

Racial/ethnic diversity: I wanted to recruit at least six women of 
color for the study representing Black, Asian American and Latina 
perspectives. My hope was to represent as much diversity within the 
women of color population as possible. 

Denominational affiliation: I divided denominational affiliation 
into three different categories based on church polity as a representation of 
differing theological assumptions. The three categories represent 1 ) 
congregational polity whereby the independence and autonomy of each local 
church is respected. 2) presbyterian as an ecclesiastical polity wherein the 



37 



church is governed by presbyters (ministers and elders of the church) and 3) 
episcopacy, the system of church government by Bishops. I attempted to 
represent a diversity of theological assumption by recruiting women across 
these distinctions. 

Disclosure: I initially attempted to recruit an equal number of 
women who were closeted (i.e. not "out" to their constituency) and women 
who were "out" (i.e. open about their sexuality in a public way to their 
constituents.) 

Summary of Recruitment Procedures and Priorities 

Cheryl and I began recruiting participants by tapping into the 
underground network of religiously affiliated lesbians. Because of the 
necessity for most women to remain closeted, we recognized that trust was a 
critical factor in effective recruitment, and that efforts to anonymously 
advertise would most likely prove futile. We contacted over 50 women we 
knew to help recruit the diversity represented above. There was an 
abundance of white lesbian clergy (both in and out) in the congregational 
category due to polity which gives local churches more power in determining 
"fitness" for ministry. (See Appendix A for denominational positions.) 
Conversly, it was more difficult to locate women of all colors in the 
Presbyterian and Episcopacy categories due to stringent denominational 
positions that often explicitly prohibit ordination of homosexuals. (Again, see 
Appendix A.) I want to underscore here that this situation does not 
necessarily imply that there are fewer lesbian clergy (in ratio to ordained 
women) in the Episcopacy and Presbyterian categories compared to the 
Congregational category, but rather that lesbians within those denominations 
that expressly prohibit the ordination of homosexuals by necessity need to 



38 



remain more closeted to maintain their standing as clergy. The method we 
incorporated for recruitment required that women be out to the degree that 
they are in some way connected to the underground networks. My 
assumption is that there are countless lesbian clergy (across all 
denominations) who are so closeted as to be out to only their most intimate 
aquaintances, and therefore "unreachable" in relation to this study. I'm 
certain that this is especially true within denominations that strictly prohibit 
the ordination of homosexuals. 

I was committed from the outset of the study that half of the 
participants be women of color. Given the exploratory nature of this initial 
inquiry, I felt it was crucial to represent as much diversity as possible and to 
not perpetuate the false notion that white feminist assumption is 
representative of all women. Because women of color face racism as well as 
sexism and heterosexism as social obstacles that hinder self determination, 
they are obviously in a more vulnerable position socially and institutionally 
than are white women in relation to issues of disclosure. In addition, there 
are numerically more white women clergy than there are women of color 
clergy across all denominations. Given these facts coupled with my 
commitment to diverse representation, Cheryl and I recruited women of 
color first and recruited white women in proportion. Black, Latina, Native 
and Asian American women were all contacted and several indicated 
interest in participating themselves. An Asian American woman was very 
interested but did not want to be the only Asian American voice 
represented. We tried to locate another Asian lesbian clergy through our 
available networks but our efforts were in vain. This seems to imply that 
Asian lesbian clergy are not choosing to associate with or do not have access 
to the established networks and are either individually isolated or connected 



39 



with another, separate community. We secured commitments from ten 
women: five women of color (two Black Latinas, one light skinned Latina, one 
Black American and one Mexican Indian) and five white women. One week 
before the gathering however, a Black Latina woman from Chicago needed 
to withdraw due to scheduling conflicts with a new job. We attempted to 
find another women of color to replace her, but it was impossible with such 
late notice. We decided to invite a white woman to participate who 
represented the same denominational category and geographic location as 
the woman who withdrew. We convened the gathering with ten 
participants; four women of color and six white women (including myself.) 
Cheryl did not participate as a subject but served as co-facililitator. There 
were eleven women all together. 

Funding and Expenses 

This project proved to be quite costly with very few institutional 
funding sources. With the exception of the generous in-kind contributions 
detailed below and $750 raised through individual and institutional 
contributions. I underwrote the balance of the project with my educational 
loan which amounted to over $1500. I include this to underscore the 
financial burden that pursuing unconventional research entails and the 
obvious correlation between institutional support and conventional research 
subjects and paradigms. 

Geographically women came from the Central, Midwest and Northeast 
regions of the United States. Several women traveled from out of town. I 
offered to pay the travel expenses for women who could not afford to pay 
their own or secure other funding. Other expenses included an honorarium 
for Cheryl, consultation fees related to methodology, taping equipment, 



40 



phone, mail, and miscellaneous supplies. I transcribed the tapes of the 
gathering myself. 

In kind contributions included the following: Our lodging and food was 
provided by members of a Christian base community that I belong to. The 
gathering was held at a large Victorian home owned by two of the members 
who vacated for the weekend, and our meals were catered by other 
members of the community. Another friend volunteered to monitor the 
recording for the entire event. 

Outline of Gathering 

The week before the gathering I sent a letter to all participants 
outlining logistics and encouraging them to think about the following 
questions: 

1 ) What critical issues do you face as a lesbian clergywoman and/or 
minister? 

2) What questions/issues related to our identities as lesbian 
clergy/ ministers would you like us to explore during our time together? 

The women were asked to arrive by 6:00pm Friday night for dinner. 
(One woman arrived later that evening around 9:00pm and another arrived 
the next morning at 10:30am.) We opened with an informal meal together 
during which I outlined my own motivations for convening the gathering, 
the events leading up to the actual weekend, the proposed agenda, and 
Cheryls unique role as co-facilitator but not subject participant. We 
convened the first working session (which were all taped) at 8:00pm. 

Cheryl facilitated the first session by asking everyone to share our 
stories by specifically focusing on important events or experiences that 
shaped our identities as lesbians and as clergy/ ministers. She invited us to 



41 



illuminate these stories by illustrating them in the form of a life map or 
journey. We took twenty minutes to focus and illustrate our reflections and 
took 15-20 minutes each sharing our stories with the entire group. We 
ended at 11:30pm. 

We began the next morning with breakfast at 8:00am with Carter 
Heyward who joined us for informal conversation. Our next working session 
began at 9:30 and we began by hearing the stories of two women who did 
not get a chance to share the night before. I facilitated the next aspect by 
presenting a list of the following themes that Cheryl and I heard emerge out 
the stories that were shared. 

"Questions surrounding disclosure....whether to be in or out and in 
what circumstances and with what motivation. 

"Changing theologies related to our experience of ourselves as 
lesbian. 

"Pain and questions of how to transform it. 

"Relationship between oppressions. Not single issue orientation but 
recognition of power distribution and sources of oppression/liberation. 

We asked whether our perceptions were accurate and if these were 
major themes that people heard expressed. The women agreed, and we then 
asked if there were other themes that they heard emerge or if there were 
other issues they thought should be considered. We spent the next hour 
brainstorming the following list: 

"Congregants often expect Clergy to have "answers" and form of 
integrated faith, especially in relationship to crisis. 



42 



* "Tremendous power and gifts represented in lives of women 
participants exceptional women living in midst of contradiction. 

"Church as central at some point in every woman's (participants) life. 

"Central theme of transformation..of pain, gifts, power, passion, anger. 

"Recognition that in an alienated culture, compartmentalization is a 
given assumption. We are taught and encouraged to compartmentalize. 

" Redefinition of family. 

"Our connections to our histories...both lost and partial histories of 
other marginalized women and men and our internalization of alienated 
assumption as normative. 

"The question/issue of naming who defines the parameters of inquiry 
regarding lesbians' participation in the church structure. 

"The question of what we mean by "women's community" need to 

articulate differences as well as similarities. 

"How to live authenticly amidst the contradictions. 

"Internalized homophobia....how it manifests itself. 

"Economic risks for women in advanced capitalism....lesbians in 
particular who are not attached to men in intimate, propertied way. 

After brainstorming, we took a 30 minute break and invited anyone 
who was interested to join Cheryl and me in forming three questions to focus 
our discussion based on the issues and concerns that were expressed. We 
came up with the following three questions which we presented to the group 
for their input and approval: 

1 ) Coming out: What do you lose and what do you gain? 

2) Who are my people? To whom am I accountable? 



43 



3) What do I believe? What are the sources for my authority? 

The group approved of the three questions and added a fourth: 

4) What are the new emergent paradigms for ministry? 

We then divided up the remaining time and decided to focus on each 
question for 45 minutes. The group elected to work through lunch and eat 
while continuing the discussion rather than break completely. We ended the 
event at 4:00pm Saturday afternoon following a brief closing ritual. 



44 



CHAPTER THREE; RESULTS 

Summary of Stories of Participants 

The following are summaries of the stories the women shared during 

our first working session together on Friday evening. Although issues 

surrounding disclosure varied among members of the group, I decided to 

mask the identities of all participants by changing their names and altering 

other identifiable information. I did not alter information regarding age, 

race or class background. Denominational affiliations are indicated by polity 

category. 
tittttttttt ********* 

Amy is a white, Midwestern seminarian in her early twenties. She is 
pursuing ordination in a denomination within the Presbyterian category. 
She grew up as an "air force brat" and spent a good deal of her childhood 
traveling all over the world. Her relationship with the church was sporadic 
due to the transient lifestyle of a military family. She characterizes her 
early relationship with the church as significant but "not foundational." 

"All throughout my life I was pretty much a tomboy and lived that out 
and....in high school I was a jockett and accused of being a lesbian, but I was 

like NO! I'm not!" Amy said the accusations continued in college and 

when she began to fear they might be true she contemplated suicide. It was 
in this somewhat desperate time that she had an experience that "really 
brought me back to religion." 

I was driving my car. I was going to crash the car and end my 
life. ..and I don't know what happened. All of a sudden I was just 
by the road and safe. I woke up and really believed that it was the 
hand of God that saved me. So there's a real sense that I'm supposed 
to be living and supposed to be facing the life that I'm supposed to 
be doing. 



45 



Following that experience, Amy traveled to Mexico and Nicaragua 
where she said it was a "real awakening" for her in many ways. "It was the 
first time I was able to come out to myself because I found myself really 
attracted to a woman who was on the trip who was the head of the gay and 
lesbian alliance." She said her experience there was also a spiritual and 
political awakening for her as well. Through her studies at the Center for 
Intercultural dialogue in Cuernavaca, Mexico she was exposed to looking at 
global issues from a political and economic framework. She recognized the 
relationship between the poverty she saw in Mexico and Nicaragua and 
United States' involvement in the economic affairs of both countries. She 
was especially moved by the faith and vitality of people she met who lived 
in such impoverished conditions. "I was thinking a little bit about ministry 
at the time, (but) not wanting to go into it." She later indicated that it was 
this trip that "pulled it all together for me." 

After returning from Mexico Amy became active in the gay and 
lesbian alliance on her campus. During her early weeks there, a gay man 
from the nearby town was brutally beaten to death. The man's lover called 
the alliance for emotional and political support, and Amy became very active 
in the entire affair. The case went to trial and the man primarily responsible 
was set free with no charges and the two accomplices were given minimal 
sentences that were eventually suspended. 

This was a scarey time for me because I thought I was just open game. 
But we had protests and marches and the (state) organization for human 
rights was trying to help us out to see how we could reopen the case... 
This was the beginning of my beginning to understand myself, and 
coming out and the community galvinizing around this issue and seeing 
that the support was there was really important. 

Amy ended her story with the following reflection: 

It just keeps reminding me of experiences I had in Mexico Those 



46 



people are still with me and part of the decisions I have to make. I have 
a responsibility. I feel a responsibility to Peter and William (the mur- 
dered man and his lover) and to their relationship. There's such a history 
that I need to carry forth. I'm grateful for the opportunity to be here to 

start to do that. To claim that for each of our histories and to be a witness 

to what's forming, what's shaping and what has been. 



lUIIItllllltltlllll 



Sarah is a Black seminarian in her mid-thirties who is ordained in a 
denomination in the Presbyterian category. She is currently serving an 
urban parish in the Northeast. 

I grew up thinking I was garbage. And that began because on July 11. 
1933 I was abandoned in in a garbage can in Fort Green Park in Brooklyn. 
And I survived that experience merely because some garbage men were 
coming and cleaning up Fort Green Park that day and heard this baby 
crying, which was me. and took me to New York Family hospital on the 
East Side of New York. From that moment on I became a ward of the 
State. And there was no name for me. no date and no anything that 
begins with most people. So. New York Family hospital being a place 
that was run by nuns ...a particular nun took interest in me named 
Sister Sarah so she gave me that name and being a Betty Grable 
fan gave me the last name Grable Estimated, of course, not knowing 
when I was born that I must have been about six months, so gave me 
a birth date of January 1 1 . 1955 

Sister Sarah also "assigned" her the Baptist denomination for reasons 
that Sarah can now only speculate upon. She was in and out of foster homes 
for her entire childhood and became street wise "in order to survive." 

I had to be a number runner in order to survive ...I started that at eight 
years old. At some point I had to be a child prostitute in order to survive. 
Did terribly in school for a long time. ...Had to go to reform school for 
selling drugs, again as a form of survival. 

Sarah spoke about the catch-22 of the system and about the "series of 
white impersonal social workers who never understood Black life and Black 
people." She said that she was a "particular case that they truly didn't 
understand." They assumed that Sarah would 

(E)ither end up doing time in jail which I think most people did at some 
point I was beginning to think so too. ...or would end up being a prostitute 
And eventually, that kind of life killing you. ..because it does. It really does. 



47 



Sarah said things turned around for her in high school when a 
particular teacher took an interest in her by encouraging her aptitude in 
math. "As a numbers runner, you have to have a powerful aptitude in math, 
which I did." This encouragement sparked her motivation in other subjects 
as well, and after "hard work" she graduated valedictorian. She likened that 
teacher who initially encouraged her to a "minister" in her life. 

She chose to attend a private college in the Northeast "because it had a 
beach and a lake and all those non-academic reasons. If you come out of the 
environment that I do, the opportunity to ride a horse and play golf....was a 
marvel to me." But Sarah was unhappy there. She said it was the first time 
she "saw the injury of class." 

Black women against other Black women . A lot of stuff that I thought 
was was just really endemic to ghetto life was there at college: violence 
toward women. ...rape was there. I thought that only happened in the 
ghetto. 

As unhappy as Sarah was at that college, she was "able to get out of 
that place (graduate) because people ministered to me." 

In relation to her sexual identity, Sarah said that she didn't even begin 
to date until she was 26 or 27. 

My whole life was really about survival. So, to date was a luxury. And to 

be sexual I didn't have an understanding of that, especially if you sell 

your body for survival. 

Sarah was planning to marry a man "because that was the thing you 
were supposed to do." But she began to identify her attraction to women 
and went to a Black Baptist minister in Harlem for advice. He said that she 
would "get over it" and recommended some psychiatrists for her to see. He 
then "made advances'" toward her, which Sarah rejected. She knew his 



48 



advice "didn't hold water" but still felt concern over her growing awareness 
of her lesbianism. 

I felt alienated enough. And here I go dealing with this stuff called 
lesbianism which I was always told (at least growing up in the 1960s 
70s) that it was a white phenomenon. And I couldn't understand how 
I had it! Because, you know I truly was a Black woman! So I didn't 
know how I caught it. I thought maybe college did it to me 

It wasn't until she was talking to some "straight Black sisters" about 
her lesbianism that she finally found an "image." They told her about Audre 
Lorde and encouraged Sarah to go and meet her. (Lorde was teaching at 
Hunter College at the time.) Through her friendship with Lorde, Sarah met a 
number of Black women, lesbian and heterosexual who served as mentors 

and role models for her women "who were instrumental in giving me 

strength to begin to open my own doors." 

Sarah began to be more active in the church, and in 1 978 she felt a 
call to ministry but didn't pursue it at the time because "there were no 
images out there. I didn't see any Black women ministers, let alone any 
Black lesbian ministers." She decided to pursue a career in teaching at the 
Junior High level instead. She taught in an urban school and considered her 
work a form of ministry, but still felt called to pursue ordination. She 
remembered that Toni Morrison once told her that she had to "create 
herself" and to always remember "the divine power in creating yourself." 
Sarah decided to enter seminary two years ago. She reports that she was 
"thrown out of Black Baptist churches left and right....the most prominant 
Black churches just thought I was too radical. Particularly when I said that I 
felt called." She contemplated leaving seminary because she thought it was 
"becoming a very expensive exercise in futility if (she) was going to graduate 
and not have a church." A woman there who was the Dean of Admissions 



49 



told her that a particular denomination was in desperate need of Black 
pastors who were called to urban ministry, so Sarah contacted the regional 
headquarters and was recruited to serve a parish that had been without a 
pastor for over two years. 

I try to be honest with the congregation that I'm working with, to show 
them that there is diversity within the Black experience. That we are 
indeed lesbian and gay people, were poor and rich, we're schooled, un- 
schooled. That were all God's people. The church had a membership of 
50 when I arrived. And now on a given Sunday, and this could be in 
inclement weather, we'll have about 300 people there. 

Ulttttlttttttttlll 

Kate is a white clergywoman in her mid-forties who is ordained in a 
denomination in the Presbyterian category. She is currently serving a 
parish in the Northeast. 

My growing up was about as straight and all American as anybody I 
can think of. I mean, its about 180 degrees different from yours, Sarah. 
I grew up on a farm in the midwest. From the time I was very little we 
were, our whole family was involved in the church. I grew up in the 
church. If I wasn't at home I was in the church. We were always (the 
denomination she is ordained in.) Very steeped in all that meant from 
things we ate to things we sang to things we believed and things we didn't 
say which was a lot. 

Kate continued to outline what she termed "a very, very ordinary kind 
of growing up." She went to Bible camp, belonged to 4H, "LOVED the church," 
wanted to be a missionary (she said she wasn't "creative" enough to think 
that women could be ministers), went to a college related to her 
denomination and "believed everything (she) was taught." She dated men 
but admits that "there was never anything that really sparked, but I knew a 

lot of women who went out with men and nothing ever really sparked so I 

just thought it would take time here." In general, Kate said that she "just felt 
pretty much like everybody else." 



50 



In college, however, that perception slowly began to change. 
Specifically, Kate recalled a fantasy that kept recurring: 

My strongest memory of something that started giving me clues about 
this was a fantasy in which I was always pregnant. I was never married, 
or if I was married my husband had been tragically killed or had been 
jailed for war resistance. But he was clearly (out of the picture.) But one 
abiding theme of this fantasy was that there was always a woman with 

me a real woman that I knew. And she was there to get me through 

this terrible pregnancy, in which I had every known complication and 
some that had never been known. .1 made them up. I was in terrible pain 
and she would always, this woman would always be there to see me through. 
To hold me, to... you know. Well, this fantasy went on for years and years 
and I put new women in as time went on. And I began to think, this has 
really nothing to do about this baby. It has to do with the woman who is there. 

Years later when Kate was working as a youth director at a church in 
the Midwest she fell in love and began a relationship with a college aged 
woman in the congregation. 

I fell in love with a woman much younger than myself, and that caused 
a lot of complications. It was a wonderful time in many ways. I mean, 
without attaching any words to it, I was certain it was what I had been 
looking for all my life. 

Unfortunately, their relationship was discovered by the woman's 
father who found and read her journal. Kate immediately told the minister 
who was "just torn apart." The assumption was that Kate would then leave 
the parish. The discovery happened in February and she made plans to 
leave by Easter. The family had threatened to do whatever was necessary to 
get Kate out, but in the end they never took any direct action beyond telling 
the minister and forbidding any contact between the two women 
whatsoever. Kate ended up staying on at the parish past Easter and into the 
next year. She and the woman were no longer lovers because of the 
parents intervention, and the younger woman eventually fell in love with 



51 



another woman from her college. Kate was heartsick, and made plans leave 
the area and attend seminary in the Northeast. 

Those years were wonderful. It was the first time I had learned about 
women's music and I just finally did meet people who themselves were 
lesbians and other women who were very important in my life. People 
who were professors. ...I had just never met women who were so impor- 
tant to me in my life as the the women who I had met there. 

Because of her experience at the church in the Midwest, Kate decided 
to stay on the East coast and shifted her vocational base to the northeast 
region. She went on to explain her rise in popularity within the church. 

I have been always a very kind of nice person. I mean, I go to church 
meetings. I don't raise a fuss. I'm not known as a radical. (Well. I guess I 
am in certain circles because you only have to say God instead of "He" to 
be called a radical in certain circles of the church ) But generally. I'm 
nice, well mannered, go to meetings, try to make people happy And 
because of that I have become sort of a star in the church. I've been 
elected to umpteen things and I'm on lots of boards and I'm on the national 
church council and (at a recent convention I was nominated for a top 
office in the church. I wasn't elected, but it was assumed I would be 
elected as a top official in a region.) 

In her drawing, Kate indicated a "commotion" at that juncture. Due to 

the publicity around her candidacy at the convention mentioned above, the 

parents of her first lover sent the newly elected presiding official a letter 

exposing Kate's lesbianism. She was speaking at a seminary when she 

received a call from the official. 

I said to myself, he's either calling to offer me a job or he is calling 
to tell me that he has received a letter. It was the latter (The Mother) 
wrote a letter to him and a copy to my regional official who had 
never heard any of this story before. 

The presiding official was urging Kate not to consider any candidacy 
for leadership of a region. He knew of Kate's lesbianism when she was 
ordained and was afraid to be implicated himself for supporting her 
ordination in spite of that knowledge. 



52 



I said, "Well Bob." (Bob is our presiding official.) I said "I cant give you 
an answer sitting here with nobody that I know in the middle of nowhere. 
I said, "It doesn't surprise me. I always knew that it was something that 
could happen. As I sit here what I'm telling you is that I cant imagine 
that I want to be a candidate for office anyplace." 

Kate spoke about recovering from that experience with the strong 
support of good friends, but admits that since that time the "gulf" between 
her lesbian identity and her church affiliation as becoming "greater and 
greater." 

When I read Audre Lorde, particularly her essay about how our silence 
will not save us, I think there is no more powerful word to me. It becomes 
more and more true for me and less and less possible to to keep living the 
way I've been living. That last commotion really pushed me to ask whether 
(these two identities can live within me. ...lesbian and clergy.) 

tttitttttttttttitti 

Laurie is a white Congregational clergywoman in her mid-thirties. She 
is currently serving a parish in the Midwest. Similar to Amy, Laurie also 
grew up in an Air Force family and traveled a great deal. 

Because we moved around so much we picked churches by the community 
rather than the denomination. So I was Methodist for awhile, Presby- 
terian for awhile, Baptist for awhile. UCC for awhile ..but the church I 
was most involved in was a (denomination) church in high school. That's 
why I think I ended up in a (denomination) church as clergy because of my 
experiences there. 

But Laurie left the church in college because she "was really frustrated 
with how patriarchal it was." She explored Buddhism and a "variety of other 
spiritual experiences" before deciding to enter seminary as a Unitarian 
Universalist. 

But when I got into seminary I realized that I had to come to terms 

with my Christian heritage as much as I hated many things about 

Christianity and really still struggle with a lot of things. ...its my 
home too. And the church is something that I feel really called to 
confront and embrace. 



53 



It was also in seminary that Laurie embraced her lesbianism in a 
more integrated fashion. She said that she began to recognize her attraction 
to women in college, "but also fought that a lot." 

I was in a college situation with a lot of women who were lesbian but 
didn't really talk about it. We went to lesbian bars and I guess I thought 
of myself as bisexual for awhile, although I really wouldn't use those 
words either. But when I got into seminary, that's when it really started 
getting really clear to me who I was, and that's when the (theological) 
clash started happening between me and the church. 

Laurie came out as a lesbian in seminary and also established formal 
affiliation with her denomination. 

I've been in parish ministry for 4 1/2 years now I'm very involved 
in my region in the Midwest and have been out on all the boards 
I've served on. I'm out to the regional staff. My lover and I had a 
covenant ceremony and all the regional staff were there, all my 
clergy friends from all over the state were there. But I wasn't out in 
the parish where I spend all my time. 

The fact that Laurie was out everywhere except her parish made her 
feel increasingly "schizophrenic" and anxious. 

I began to feel pushed by the kinds of things I was preaching. ...which 

were that relationship is important, integrity is priority the kinds 

of things I needed to hear. And the way that I began to understand 
my call at that point was that embodying who I am was really what I 
was called to do much more than preaching what were all supposed 
to do. 

In consultation with her lover and her colleague (who knew about her 
lesbianism when she was hired) Laurie decided this past Fall that it was time 
to come out to the congregation. She first gathered the handful of 
parishioners who she had come out to over the years to strategize how the 
announcement should be made. They were very supportive and enthusiastic 
and thought the initial letter should come out of the church council. They 
met with the council the following week who were equally responsive and 



54 



optimistic. The council drafted a letter and sent it out to the entire 
congregation the following week. Although public support was 
overwhelmingly favorable, the fiscal year ended with an unprecedented 
$80,000 deficit. The council then sponsored a series of educational forums 
on "homosexuality" where attendance steadily decreased. After Christmas, a 
minority of congregants who were strongly opposed to Laurie began actively 
organizing against her. The majority of people who were supportive 
thought everything was just fine so they didn't do anything." The 'anti 
groups campaign" was successful enough to divide the congregation almost 
equally in half. Professional mediators were brought into the process and 
they distributed a survey which indicated that 47% of the congregation 
wanted Laurie fired. She decided to resign. 

The 33% were devastated. Given my battle fatique, I could not stick it 
out to a vote and make them say why they were firing me. I needed at 
that point, after five months of real subversive stuff, a lot of real nasty 
letters and a lot of name calling and meetings and stuff .. ..that I just 
needed to stop. 

The youth that Laurie worked with were consistently and 
unanimously supportive, but they didn't have enough influence in the 
congregation to significantly affect the process. For them and for the 53% 
who supported her, she decided to stay until the end of May to finish out the 
year. 

I feel like I don't want to walk away from them. I need to complete the 

year with them for myself as veil as for them. But that 53% I think 

because they are so sheltered in their suburbs they didn't understand the 
power of homophobia. And now they're saying "My God! We did nothing 
and look what happened!'' 

Although she is clearly still in the midst of the pain this situation has 
engendered, Laurie closed with the following reflections: 



55 



Its been real mixed, but what I have gotten mostly from it is that I don't 
regret what I did in coming out. And that for me to be clergy means I 
have to be myself. For me to be a minister means I have to say who I am. 
And that for me to be a minister in the Church of Jesus Christ means that 

I need to be true to myself, and that silence my silence will not protect 

me. For me, new life has come in really coming home. 



UUIlttlltttlllUll 



Nancy is a white, Congregational clergywoman in her mid-forties and 
is currently serving as a campus minister. She grew up in a small, rural 
town in the Midwest and identified with much of Kate's story; growing up on 
a farm, 4H, youth fellowship and attending a small high school. 

But I think that the difference for me was that I never, never. ...I 
don't think I ever had the luxury of believing that I was a part of 
what was going on. There was always something. ...something about 
me that felt different. I think some of that had to do with the econ- 
omics. ..the economic location of my family. We lived on a farm and 
never had a whole lot. 

Nancy was the oldest of a large family and recalled that on her 
sixteenth birthday her father pulled her aside and said "I guess it's about 
time for you to get a job and bring the money home...that will be a good help 
to us." She knew that her father expected her to quit high school and work 
full time. Nancy did begin work, but stayed in school and saved her money 
for college. 

Her early religious affiliations were strong and somewhat complicated. 

The church was really the center of the community community life And 
my family was very active in the church. (When I say family I almost have 
to say church because in the town I grew up in we were ail related to one 
another The imbededness of that is incredible ) I grew up in a family of 
German peasants... The heritage that I come out of is a kind of pietistic 
heritage that isn't too complicated in terms of its theology but there's a 
strong commitment to having some kind of congruency between what you 
believe and what you do. I think part of my struggle over the last few 
years has been trying to make my life congruent. 



56 



Nancy graduated from high school and attended a state school. "It was 
the only thing I could even imagine affording." She met Eric during her 
Junior year there. He was the campus minister and a seminary student at a 
divinity school in the Northeast. 

Eric was attractive enough. ...he was a minister. And what took place 
between us wasn't that awful. ..you know? So, I said "Well, I don't think 
this gets any better than this, you know? And if I don't make this choice 
now. what am I going to do?" 

In spite of her misgivings (which she believed indicated something 
"wrong" with her) she and Eric were married following her senior year. "We 
managed to have a fairly compatable life because he was doing one thing 
and I was doing another." They moved to a rural town where Nancy was a 
teacher and Eric was serving a parish. Their first major crisis came when 
Eric took a new job which required them to move to the city. Nancy didn't 
feel trained to teach in an urban setting and decided to start a graduate 
program in business. 

I spent a lot of time studying and being with the people, the other scholars 
in the program. Eric did everything that I can imagine someone doing to 
subvert the success of my being in that program. After six weeks or so I 
said that I couldn't deal with the tension It was one of those crossroads. 
The graduate program went. The whole decision was not a free decision. 

In 1971 Nancy had her first child and two years later she gave birth 
to her second. "There are whole times in the years 71 and 73 that I don't 
have a clue what was going on in the real world because it was kids and 
diapers and food and you know, the whole round." When the children were 
older, Nancy immersed herself in community activities and organizations. T 
think the way I dealt with my unhappiness was just to stay as busy as 
possible, and I piled up one thing after another." 



57 



Another major crisis in her relationship with Eric occurred when he 
wanted to move again. Nancy was adamently opposed, but they moved in 
spite of her objections. 

A relationship that had been pretty functional got cooler if that can be 
imagined. And for a long time. ..the last ten years... we've basically had 
a business arrangement. That sounds kind of cold, but on the other hand, 
in exchange for some economic security I was willing to accomodate... and 
I needed to take care of my kids. 

When her children were in junior and senior high school, Nancy 
decided to attend seminary which she saw as the "logical choice" for her. "I 
think I married a minister because I didn't have enough imagination to 
figure out that I can do it myself." She was ordained a few years ago and 
has served as the associate pastor at two parishes and is currently serving as 
a campus minister. 

Nancys experience of her lesbianism "is fairly recent knowlege" about 
herself. 

I think in retrospect I can identify some inklings that if I'd known 
what to look for what to pay attention to that I could have figured out 
something different a long time ago. but nevertheless, my antennas 
were tuned somewhere else. My own self awareness was helped by a 
couple of very attractive and loving women who kept asking pointed 
questions. 

Nancy alluded to a "final eruption that really shook (her) life." She left 
Eric and obtained a divorce. 

Right now I'm involved in a partnership that holds lots of promise, lots 
of hard work... lots of peril. I suspect, as well. My friends who have known 
me through the transition have already confirmed what I already know 
myself .... and that is I'm in much better shape than I've ever been before. 



58 



tlllllUIIIIIIlIIIII 



Jennifer is a white clergywoman in her early thirties who is ordained 
in a denomination in the Episcopacy category. She has served in parish and 
hospital ministries and is currently a Ph.D. student in the Northeast. 

I grew up in central Pennsylvania... my father is a tenant farmer, so I 
grew up real poor My mother was chronically depressed, so I grew up 
both isolated from her and I grew up before my time. I mean I 
really did grow up fast. I was the oldest child of three and the only 
daughter, so I was my mothers logical replacement. I've often thought 

how fortunate I was that I was not sexually abused by my father but 

he was a very closed man who was under a lot of pressure because of my 
mother's illness. And so he was a very cruel man in a lot of ways. I 
loved him to death, which is sort of a strange combination... he was my 
survival through all of that, which makes some sense. 

Jennifer went on to say that in spite of those hardships, she was also a 
"very fortunate kid." She was gifted in school and teachers took a strong 
interest in her. Jennifer's early church experiences were also very positive. 

I was really strongly connected to church and that was really a life 
source for me. In the times when I was in crisis about my mothers 
illness, and the effect that had on all of us, what I was taught in church 
gave me hope. It was hope about that this wasn't (it was really simplistic 
you know) that this wasn't all there is. Some days that just really 
mattered a whole lot to me. 

Church was an important source of community for Jennifer....a place of 
belonging. But it was also there that she began to recognize her uniqueness. 

The church was also a real life source for me in terms of family or 
community. A lot of what I did socially was in the church. My friends 
were all church kids ...were all very "good" kids. And it was a place 
where I felt both very much connected and at home and also the place 
that I first began to feel that I was on the edge, theologically. There 
were no words in our church for what I asked. And they weren't 
very big questions at the time, but I did question a lot about the very 
literal sorts of things I was taught in Sunday school as a child. I got 
this message really early that church was not the place to ask questions. 

In spite of that realization, Jennifer's church connection continued to 
be very important to her. She decided to attend a small, denominationally 



59 



affiliated women's college and had planned on entering the pre-med 
program. Frightened by horror stories related to the failure rate however, 
she decided instead to major in religion. She enrolled in an Old Testament 
course with a man who proved to be a pivotal character in her vocational 
future. 

Alex started to answer my questions. And he shoved me where there 
were answers. He showed me that there were answers in books. He 
showed me that people who care about religion as an academic subject 
try to answer these questions. And so, my college experience was really 
an emerging for me into my head experience of my faith and the develop- 
ment of my ability to think about what I felt. It was there (college) that 
my religious vocation began to form. 

Jennifer assumed she would pursue academic religion as opposed to a 
career in ministry because she believed that "the church didn't want people 
like me." (Refering to her questions.) After working in retail management 
for two years she entered an M.Div. program at a seminary in the Northeast. 
Through her field education experience as a hospital chaplain, Jennifer 
realized "that there was a place in ministry for people who could think....and 
there was also some ministry in me." She shifted her vocational goals 
toward hospital chaplaincy. 

Jennifer's experience of her lesbianism also began to form in college. 
She had friends who were lesbian of whom she was "very tolerant." Even 
though she fell in love with her roommate, she never identified herself as a 
lesbian until after college when she initiated a two year relationship with 
another woman. She identified herself as lesbian when she began seminary, 
but felt somewhat isolated and unique in that identity. 

At that time I didn't know that there were very many lesbians. I thought 
that there were only the ones at my college and the ones I happened to 
run into I mean, I didn't have any vision that I had a community. It 
seemed just accidental that I met these people. 



60 



During her years in seminary Jennifer was exposed to the larger 
lesbian community through women's music concerts and events. It was also 
in seminary that she realized there were other lesbian seminarians. 

It was a wonderful, wonderful time. Finding out that there was a whole 
world that was my. my culture and my family and. It was a very exciting 
time. I realized that there were other lesbians in seminary too. I was 
a little slow about these things! After my first year I ended up on a Softball 
team. ...all of whose members were lesbian seminarians. 

Jennifer went on to state that her seminary education was not only a 
significant academic and vocational experience for her, but was also "a time 
to come to terms with the wide implications of my personal relationships.'' 
She said that she felt thankful that coming out for her was not a personally 
traumatic experience. She did recognize however, the vocational issues at 
stake. 

Where it's really been hard for me is in my relationship with the church. 
When I was in seminary I thought that I didn't need to be ordained to be 
in ministry, and so understanding what the church would do to me as a 
lesbian I tried to stay away. I tried to do my ministry without ordination, 
but I couldn't find work. I decided to look at this ordination question. 

Jennifer's denomination has a strict policy against the ordination of 
lesbians and gay men. "So I began the ordination process by omitting the 
truth about myself as a lesbian.'' She received a great deal of support and 
encouragement from her denomination, and was ordained soon after she 
began the process. She served as the pastor in two different parishes before 
deciding to return to school to pursue a Ph.D. 

I was serving this last church I was in. ...this struggling little half time 
church was eating me alive ..because I was the half time pastor. And I 
decided, we decided (she and her lover) I couldn't stay there It was a 
lie, and it, I couldn't tell the truth because... well, I don't know. Too much 
to lose. I don't know how to lose my vocation... which isn't always tied 
to the church. The longer I go on, the less it's tied to the church. But at 
that time I didn't know how to give that up. And in my church, to speak 
is to give it up. 



61 



Jennifer is enjoying her academic pursuits, and feels grateful for being 
in a community where she doesn't have to be "so careful and scared all the 
time." 

I don't know what it means about when I finish this program ..what 111 
do next or how out I would be if I were to go back into parish ministry, or 
even if I could go back into parish ministry. It's very hard for me some- 
times to be away from it. There are lots of things about it that I hate. But 
there are things about it I really love, and under other circumstances I 
would really seriously consider it again. But I don't think I could go back 
the way I was. And if I speak, I cant go back. 

t ******************* 

Theresa is a Mexican American Indian seminarian in her mid-forties. 
She is currently serving as an intern at a church in the Episcopacy category 
in the central part of the country. 

I just try to go back to what my grandmother taught me who was a Pueblo 
Indian Her philosophy and theology were much greater than any 
acamedician or any preacher or anybody. She just taught me that there 
was nothing greater than love and if I believed in that and held to that, 
there would be a place for me 

Theresa spoke most candidly about her ethical struggles related to 
coming out in a church and society that already consider her marginalized as 
a Mexican American woman. She recently applied for a part time position as 
a night counselor for "disturbed young women." The last line on the 
application stated that homosexual persons would not be hired. Theresa had 
to make a decision whether she was going to come out or remain silent. She 
likened the whole dilemma to her experience with the church. 

It's in the doctrine that practicing homosexuals, self avowed are not going 
to be ordained. And I thought of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the issue of ethics 
and when is an unjust law a law anyway, or is an unjust rule a rule anyway? 
And if it's unjust for somebody to call me and my lifestyle a lie why is it unjust 
for me not to tell them about my lesbianism? 



62 



Theresa knew that stereotypes about "homosexuals" as child abusers 
were what fueled the centers homophobia. 

But I knew myself that I was not a child abuser. I'm a victim of incest, 
a victim of sexual abuse and child abuse, but I know that I am not one. 

She decided to remain silent about her sexuality and was offered the job. 

Theresa went on to share her reflections about God and her experience 
of her own lesbianism: 

I always had a God that I learned about from the time that I was 8 or 9 
years old. That divine presence was always there. And I never questioned 
that I wasn't okay. I never questioned theologically that I was not okay 
So I never saw the fact that I was a lesbian. ..that that had anything to 
do with feelings of shame for myself because I just looked at it as love. 
I just looked at feelings of love. That's what my grandmother taught me. 
That's what I saw as the key to everything was love. And if somebody 
loved somebody, they could not be wrong. It never has been wrong I've 
never felt that it was wrong. Institutions and places in society teach 
people to hate. ...teach people to hate each other and teach people to 
hate themselves. But in the sense of love. ..there was never any question, 
so my God became love. 

This philosophy carried Theresa through some difficult days in her 
childhood. As the only Mexican American in her community, she was often 
shunned by her classmates and wasn't allowed to enter her friend's homes. 
"My grandmother would always say, Well, if they don't invite you into their 
homes, then invite them into yours." Theresa said she tries to hold on to that 
thought when "the church says we're not going to invite you into our place." 

Theresa did have what she called a "crisis" of faith a few years ago 
when a gay male friend of hers who was a classmate in seminary left the 
church because of the hypocrisy he experienced. The church he worked at 
had gone through the long process of negotiation about whether to declare 
themselves to be an affirming (open to gays and lesbians) congregation. 
They decided against the declaration and Theresa's friend felt betrayed and 
left the ministry. She shared in his pain and also decided to leave. 



63 



I didn't believe in the church anymore. It was too much like people 
saying to Mexican people, you cant speak your language anymore. 
At that point I left. I didn't want to stay connected to a body that con- 
demned other people. 

Theresa took two years off and decided to return to seminary and re- 
enter the ordination process. 

I found, at least a truth for me. is that the structures have to change. 
And that I owe it to my friend Andrew who left and who will never be 
back in ministry. And I owe it to other women and men to work within 
the structure and use love as the foundation. 

******************** 

Maria is a Latina clergywoman in her early thirties who is ordained in 
a Congregational denomination. She is currently serving an urban parish in 
the Northeast. 

I grew up in a Black ghetto in the Northeast in a rooming house 
that my parents owned where all the boarders were white. And I sort 
of lived in a cocoon in the middle of this ghetto. I didn't have any 
friends my own age. It was me and my mother against the world. I was 
the youngest of three children. 

Maria was known in the family as the "miracle child." Her mother, a 
devout Catholic, prayed that at age 45 she would conceive again. When she 
became pregnant, the doctors urged her to abort for her own safety but she 
refused convinced that "it was in Gods hands." When Maria was born, both 
mother and child were healthy which defied all the medical predictions. As 
the "miracle child" she took to performing. 

(I had) guitar lessons and piano lessons and singing lessons and dancing 
lessons and acting lessons Being "the miracle" there are certain expec- 
tations one must live up to. So I was the performer miracle. 

Besides her mother and her performing lessons, the other major 
influence in Marias early life was the church. 



64 



I was a very religious child, you know, growing up Catholic. Very, very 
religious. I used to go to Mass every day during Lent and it would be my 
Mother, sometimes.... a couple other old ladies in the parish, the nuns and 
me. And I really liked that image, you know? I was this pious, perfect 
child. And I thought I could maintain that for the rest of my life. 

When Maria was 13, her family moved to Atlanta to live with her 
older brother. It was a very traumatic move for her in many ways. 

When I moved to the South I had to deal with peers and family (her 
brother) which really blew me away. All of a sudden, it wasn't me 
and my mother against the world. I cried almost every day. ...I had to 
survive in a school that was all white, and I had no experience 
with this whatsoever. I had no experience with making friends. 
And I wanted so desperately to fit in someplace and I knew I didn't 
fit in anywhere. The only place that felt even remotely safe was 
the church. 

Maria "submerged" herself into the youth group and joined the 
musicians that performed the music for the folk masses every Sunday. She 
went through a period of being a Catholic charismatic and during her Junior 
year she decided to enter the convent. She spent her entire senior year 
working on her application. The day before her graduation she received a 
letter from the convent urging her to go to college first. 

I felt like my life was over. The rug really just totally ripped out from 
under me and what I felt was that God was rejecting me I didn't feel like 
the church had anything to do with it. 

She went on to college at a Catholic University where she majored in 
theater and religion. "I couldn't somehow give up on religion even though I 
was pretty cynical." During her freshman year, she also had her first lesbian 
experience. 

That terrified me absolutely terrified me. And I went and I told the 

priest about it. And he was great! He was a great, open-minded Jesuit 
who said, "This happens all the time. Don't let it worry you. It may 
pass, it may not, but don't worry about it." Well. I worried about it. I 
ran into the closet with a vengence. 



65 



Maria said at that point she began her "promiscuous lifestyle" which 
lasted for a little over two years. A point of reckoning came for her when 
she played the character Martha in "The Children's Hour." 

At the end of the play, the character commits suicide because she dis- 
covers that she's a lesbian . It had been two and a half years since the 
lesbian experience that I had had, and I was working on this role and 
I realized that it hadn't gone away. I thought, "Oh shit." So I came out 
to one of the women that I knew was a lesbian and I went over to her 
house and I cried and cried. I thought, "Oh my God, what's going to 
happen to me?" And she said to me. "Well Maria, if there's anything else 
you can be you should be it because this is a hard life. A very hard life. 
And if you can be something else, I would suggest that's what you be.... 
something else." 

Maria began a relationship with the woman she had the initial encounter 
with two and a half years earlier. 

Following college, Maria began "church hopping" and attended a 
progressive Protestant church one Sunday and "found a home." 

I found a group of gay men who became my brothers. They began to 
teach me about wholeness and about loving myself and about God loving 
me. And I decided that my call hadn't died after all. I decided to go to 
seminary ...and I decided to go to seminary OUT! 

In seminary, consistent issues regarding Maria's sense of identity 
finally came together in a new way. 

My whole life has been about trying to fit, and all of a sudden I realized 
that I sort of fit in a lot of different places, but I don't fit anywhere. And 
that has been a great relief to me finally. It was the source of phenomenal 
pain for years and years and years. It's only very recently that I realized 
that a part of me fits with the anglo lesbians and a part of me doesn't. And 
a part of me fits with the gay and lesbian community and a part of me 
doesn't. And part fits with feminists and a part of me doesn't. Part fits with 
women of color and a part of me doesn't. My mother is anglo, my father is 
Cuban. And I am on the boundary of all the boundaries. The place of 
integrity for me has been to be very out, about all of who I am ...not allowing 
them to pigeon hole me in any one place I am a Latina, I am a lesbian, I am 
of Irish and Swiss heritage. I am an actress I am a singer I'm a dancer. 
I'm an academic. I have a mind. I am a Christian, sometimes. 



66 



Maria has been working in an urban "progressive church" since her 
ordination and struggles with questions around integrity and co-optation in 
relation to ministry. "How does one balance ones integrity with the 
realization that one is always co-opted if one works in the church?" 



tllllUIUUIIUIUl 



Una is a Black Hispanic clergywoman in her early thirties who is 
ordained in a denomination in the Episcopacy category. She is currently 
serving an urban parish in the Northeast. 

We lived mostly within a Jamaican, West Indian, Caribbean community. 
My parents with a group of parents had started a school for Black West 
Indian children. At that point the denominationally affiliated schools 
were not accepting Black children in their programs. But I was igno- 
rant of that at 8. So it was a very nurturing community. ...very strict in 
its discipline as is characteristic of West Indian communities. 

Una went on to state that, "It wasn't until I moved into a white, and at 

that point mostly Jewish community that I realized that my skin color was a 

problem. ..lor other people that got imposed on me." Her parents moved to 

that community so they could send their children to public schools and save 

money for them to attend college. 

I had to find ways to cope with the fact that teachers were refusing to 
teach me. ...that for apparently no reason children would beat up on me 
and my brothers in the play ground... trip us. ...you know, push us out of 
the swings so they could have swings Dealing with things written 
about me and my brothers in the bathrooms in the school. ...stuff like 
that. 

Una was able to "make it" through those years "by focusing in on my 
personal faith relationship with God." 

It just somehow came to me at 9 years old that Jesus loved me, and other 
people were supposed to love me. ...have some regard for me as a human 
being but somehow they were not capable of doing that. But Jesus loved 
them and Jesus loved me. You can do ail sorts of psychological analysis 
on that, but that carried me through. 



67 



When Una's family moved, they also transferred their church 
membership from a Black (denomination) church to a white (denomination) 
church. Una found out years later that her father had to pay an extra fee for 
her to sing in the church choir because she was Black. 

What came through to me as a child was that ve were not quite welcome 
And then when we were welcome, we were welcomed as an anomaly... we 
weren't really Black. 

Una again reiterated the importance of her faith as that which 
sustained her through those difficult early years. Her "personal relationship 
with God, which is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and an 
understanding of his lordship" was also her sustaining power when she 
realized she was a lesbian. 

At age 18,1 acted out on my inclination, my desire to be affiliated with 
women in an intimate way. And in dealing with the internalized homo- 
phobia of our family settings, of the church, of society a way that I 

coped with that again was through this sense of Jesus loving me of God 
having created me Black. Hispanic and then lesbian. So there wasn't any 
question in me whether parts of the way I have come to my sexuality were 
chosen or were imposed or just came naturally. There was not a question 
but that God gave it to me. Just the way God gave me my race. And my 
gender. And so God loved all those things about me. And so I had to find 
a way to live with the hatred that wasn't supposed to be 

Una graduated from seminary two years ago and began serving an 
urban parish with two male colleagues "who have been gifted by God and 
through their own work with an ability to listen." When asked if her 
colleagues knew about her lesbianism, Una closed her reflections with the 
following: 

No. I think it might be alright, but I chose not to say anything. I don't 

pretend that I'm any I don't pretend that I'm straight. I just sort of 

omit facts the way probably many of us do... in various settings It's just 
not possible... right now for me to keep my commitment to work in the 
Black and Hispanic community in a parish setting and to be out. 



68 



Presentation of Themes 

As I stated earlier, the group focused on four questions for discussion 
which encompassed the issues and concerns that participants outlined as 
important to address. The four questions were: 

1 ) Coming out: What do you lose and what do you gain? 

2) Who are my people? To whom am I accountable? 

3) What do I believe? What are the sources for my authority? 

4) What are the new emergent paradigms for ministry? 

We spent approximately 45 minutes to an hour on each question. The 
following is a summary representation of those discussions presented in the 
form of specific themes that emerged in relation to each question. Edited 
transcripts of each conversation can be found in Appendix C. 

COMING OUT: WHAT DO YOU LOSE AND WHAT DO YOU GAIN? 

The following four themes emerged most prominantly in our 
discussion about coming out: 

1) Women who define themselves as more closeted spoke mostly 
about the losses associated with coming out, while women who are more 
publicly open about their sexuality spoke mostly about that which they have 
gained. 

2) Each woman articulated issues related to "call" or faith as affecting 
her decisions surrounding disclosure. 

3) Most women spoke about specific relationships that have impacted 
their decisions regarding coming out. 

4) All of the women of color spoke explicitly about the intersection of 
their racial/ethnic and sexual identities. 



69 



The following is an elaboration of these themes illustrated by 
quotations from participants. 

1) Women who define themselves as more closeted spoke 
mostly about the losses related to coming out, while women who 
are more publicly open about their sexuality spoke mostly about 
that which they have gained. 

All the women referred to the tension involved in coming out and the 
various risks involved in either decision. But in relation to primary input, 
the closeted women spoke most specifically about potential losses while the 
open women shared experiences of loss but consistently stated that the gains 
were well worth the pain. 

Of the five women who define themselves as closeted (Kate, Jennifer, 
Thersa, Una and Nancy) all but Nancy are ordained or seeking ordination in 
closed 1 denominations. Nancy is ordained in an open 2 denomination. 
Specific fears regarding loss that were articulated in relation to coming out 
included: respect of family members, ordination status, influence in the 
church, and vocations that are defined by calls to ministry within the 
denominational structure. 

Kate began the discussion by sharing her concerns about coming out to 
her parents. 



! By "closed" I am referring to denominations that strictly prohibit the ordination of 
lesbians and gay men. 

2 By "open'' I am referring to denominations that do not expressly prohibit the 
ordination of lesbians and gay men. Denominations in this category range from "non- 
commital" to "tolerant" to "affirming." Institutionalized heterosexism in church and 
society however, affects even the most affirming denominations as evidenced in 
Laurie's situation. 



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I've not talked to my parents. I've talked to my sister who has been 
saddened by this ever since ..two years ago. And the first thing that 
came out of her mouth was, "Don't tell Mom and Dad." That's also the 
first thing that came out of my brother's mouth. .."Don't tell Mom and 
Dad." Everytime I think about being more public about coming out, it 
very quickly gets pushed back to, "Weil, what will that do to Mom and 
Dad?" 



It became clear in the course of the conversation that Kate was not so much 
afraid of "losing'' her parents as she was concerned about "protecting them'' 
and maintaining their respect. "I think of them in (their small Midwestern 
town)....who are they going to talk to?" 

Kate also spoke passionately about losing her vocation which is 
intimately tied to her status as an ordained clergy in the denomination that 
she has been affiliated with since childhood. 

If I were more out... what sort of work is available? I mean, how many 
of us can work in gay congregations? I don't know if I want to be in 
a congregation with just gay folks. And if I were to make a more public 
statement. I simply would be out of the church. 

Because Kate's denomination so strictly forbids the ordination of 
lesbians and gay men, she feels certain that she would also risk her call if 
she were to be more open. She illustrated this concern by sharing a conflict 
she had with one of her student interns who was lesbian and who "pushed" 
Kate to be more out. They were speaking about integrity and Kate raised the 
issue of conflicting integrities. 

Part of (the intern's) integrity was her sense of calling She felt 
so strongly about being a parish pastor since she was about seven 
years old. Before she even thought she was a lesbian she felt called 
to be a parish pastor I used to say, "What are you going to do with 
that piece? That's integrity ..that's part of who you really are Are 
you just going to throw it out the window ?" I was asking myself, 
of course, more than I was asking her 



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Jennifer also spoke about coming out to her parents and her fear of 
losing those relationships. 

I am closer to doing that then I have been before, but its also clear 
to me that one of the things that will enable me to do it is to be prepared 
to give those relationships up. It's pretty clear. Maybe not my Mom, 
but my Dad. 

In her story, Jennifer also spoke about the relationship between her 
sense of vocation and her denominational affiliation. "I don't know how to 
lose my vocation....and in my church, to speak is to give it up." 

Nancy spoke about the complexities of coming out to her children. "It 
doesn't get any easier telling your kids." She alluded to difficulties with her 
daughter who "is not in the space that she can deal with any more than she's 
dealt with up to this point." Nancy trusts that the silence will eventually get 
broken, but admited that "it's hard to live in that suspension." 

Theresa spoke more generally about losses related to being out (such 
as rejection, loss of status in the region, etc.) but qualified each concern with 
the belief that no matter what happened to her, she still "had (her) God." 

If the church finds out (about her lesbianism) and says, "We're not 
going to ordain you." then let them not. That won't kill me and it 
won't take my God away. 

Nancy raised the concern that by coming out, lesbians lose influence in 

the church by "ceding" that territory to others. 

I think some of it has to do with how much territory are we going to 
cede to other people. If I come out and I get removed for whatever 
reasons... I'm ceding a whole area to someone else. 

Una shared a similar concern regarding her belief that if she were out 

she would lose influence and effectiveness as a pastor in her racial/ethnic 

communities of affiliation. "It's just not possible for me to keep my 



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commitment to work in the Black and Hispanic community in a parish setting 

and be out.'' 

Una was the only closeted woman who also spoke explicitly about the 

gains of being in the closet. 

I'm grateful for people who are out out... and force folks to deal with 
issues that they wouldn't deal with otherwise... for breaking open the 
boundaries and creating the space. I also recognize the specialness 
around people who are in. ..totally in the closet because some (hetero- 
sexual) people are so limited with the weights... they cant take the 
truth and be in relation to it all. But there's a desperate need for all of 
us to be in relationship to one another. So ail the places along the 
spectrum have their losses and their gains. 

Three of the five women that define themselves as more publicly out 
are ordained in open denominations (Laurie, Maria and I) while Sarah and 
Amy are affiliated with closed denominations. General themes that were 
shared related to gains included: deeper relationships with family members, 
newfound senses of security and integrity, and communities of belonging. 

Sarah spoke about how coming out for her was a process that involved 
each aspect of her identity. 

Before I even got to understanding that I was a lesbian. I had a lot of 
coming out to do. First, I had to psychologically come out of this feeling 
of being trash ...that I wasn't just garbage. I felt like I didn't have any- 
thing to lose because I didn't have anything. Then I had to come out, 
in essence, in the Black community when I decided that I would no longer 
bleach my skin to be high yeUow or straighten my hair. I realized that no 
matter how certain Black people felt about skin color or hair texture, to 
white people we were all niggers. It didn't matter whether I was degreed 
or non-degreed. ...I was still a nigger. I saw that when I was almost 
attacked many years ago in a white neighborhood. I couldn't say to them, 
you know, "I'm a college student! I'm not the niggers you're talking about 
in the ghetto I I'm not being bussed! I couldn't hold a placard up and say, 
"See, I'm not a nigger." I had to come out into my Blackness in many ways 

Sarah spoke of the myriad of ways she had to come out of internalized 
feelings of hatred and worthlessness into a more prideful experience of the 
many facets of her identity. "So when I came out as a lesbian, and the Black 
churches in the city just threw me out left and right.... I still didn't feel that I 



73 



lost anything." She repeatedly emphasized the fact that her ability to risk 
coming out was enhanced by the stark realities of her daily existence. 

I've tasted poverty, alienation and certainly unemployment and welfare 
most of my life. ..so it doesn't scare me. I felt like I've had my Mount Nebo 
experience. I done crossed over to the other side! So its almost like Fanny 
Lou Hamer.when they beat her (until she was) unconscious. She had that 
Mount Nebo experience! And I really feel that. They can't touch me now. 

In relationship to her identity as a poor Black lesbian, coming out for Sarah 
involved gaining a newfound sense of pride and dignity. 

Laurie spoke about how in coming out, she "gained" her parents in a 
new way. 

Through their incredible pain (they were able to affirm) 100% ..."We 
love you ...You're our daughter. ..Were here ..We're not going away... 
Lets work through this." I didn't anticipate that response. I thought 
I would lose them. So I gained them in a much deeper way. 

Laurie also shared about the pain she experienced in coming out to 
her congregation and the subsequent loss of that community, but stated 
emphatically that "coming out has been worth every bit of the pain." 

I don't look over my shoulder anymore and wonder if somebody's going 
to figure it out and question me. That's completely gone For the first 
time in I can't remember how long. ...I don t carry that in my soul any- 
more. And the pain has been just the worst pain I've ever experienced 
in my life, and still... it was worth it. It was worth it for that sense of 
real clarity and clean (holds chest) here. 

Maria also spoke in her story about the "pain" of coming out, but 
shared in the discussion that she gained a community and a sense of 
"wholeness" that she never before experienced. I gained a community 
when I came out that I never had before. ...So my gain is that I have 
wholeness in being a lesbian as I never had in any other way in my life." 

Maria also spoke about the necessity to recognize the joy as well as 
the pain. 



74 



I have to mention joy for just a half a second. We talk a lot about pain 
here. ...the pain of being in, the pain of being out. The pain of choosing 
which one. I have a lot of joy in my life in the midst of the pain. I have 
a lot of places of hope in the midst of despair. I think it's more than 
choosing our pain it's choosing our joy. Where are we going to have 
those places of just being free and being unincumbered, and how much 
of that do we have in the closet? 

Amy shared that in coming out, she gained a sense of identity and 
"groundedness" in herself that she never imagined could be possible. 

2) Each woman articulated issues related to call or faith as 
affecting her decisions surrounding disclosure. 

The women who were more closeted offered a variety of articulations 
related to their understanding of faith and call, including: an understanding 
of vocation as intimately linked with the denominational church, a belief in 
God as the primary accountability and an assumption that call involves 
responsibility to the church. 

Kate consistently referred to her call and vocation as intricately 
related to her denominational affiliation and identity as an ordained clergy. 

I LOVED the church. I mean, I have this one picture here (referring 
to her life map diagram) where there's a big building of the church 
headquarters of ( her denomination ) and I have this heart on top of 
it. just because I can remember times of literally loving the church. 
I can remember going to conventions and thinking "I'm so lucky to 
be part of all this! All these wonderful people." I remember being 
almost in tears because I was so moved at how wonderful it all was. 

Because hers is a closed denomination, she is certain that she would not be 
permitted to serve in an ordained capacity if she were "more open" than she 
is about her lesbian identity. "If I were really open with the church 
officials.... I mean, if I wanted to make a public statement to say something 
about being a lesbian in the church, I simply would be out. Out of the 
church." 



75 



Jennifer articulated a similar perspective. Her early years in the 
church were powerfully formative. 

I was really strongly connected to church and that was really a life 
source for me, both in terms of the faith that I was offered there and 
as a source of community. 

She later articulated her earlier experience as instrumental in her 
understanding of her call. She entered seminary assuming she would pursue 
a career in academic religion, but realized "that there was a place in ministry 
for people who could think. And there was some ministry in me." 

Seminary ended up being a real examination time for me about what 
my call was. It wasn't anything particularly mystical. ..it's that I 
grew up in the church and was told by the church that I have a 
vocation somewhere... and seminary is were I found out what it was. 

Because Jennifer is ordained in a closed denomination, like Kate she is 
certain that coming out would result in her being forced out of the ministry. 
"I don't know how to lose my vocation....and in my church, to speak is to give 
it up." 

Nancy did not speak as explicitly about faith or her call, but clearly 
assumes that her vocational identity is tied to the institutional church. This is 
evident in her assumption that it is best not to "cede" the church until it 
becomes "self destructive in significant, essential ways." 

Una and Theresa both spoke about their faith in and reliance on a God 
who will sustain them no matter what their choices. Theresa continually 
referred to "my God" as her foundation and the only constant reality that she 
can trust. "Whether I'm in or out, I still have my God. That is the important 
thing." 

Una stated that the most important commitments for her are 
"maintaining my faith relationship with God and being who I am." Her 



76 



faith in God and "Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior" is what enables her to trust 
that God "created (her) Black, Hispanic and then lesbian." Una has no 
question that "God loves all those things about me." Because of that trust, 
she doesnt feel a "burning need to be out" and wonders, "Whose question is 
it that we come out?" 

The women who are more open each spoke in various ways about the 
relationship for them between faith and integrity (almost literally 
integration.) 

Sarah spoke about having a "Mt. Nebo experience" where she 
recognized the power of an integrated rather than fragmented 
understanding of herself. She went on to speak about her call and how she 
felt it so powerfully even though she knew she was a lesbian. 

Sometimes I fumbled and I would stumble because (I couldn't make 
sense) of my call. ...but I felt it. I really felt it. But I had to get beyond 
that psychological bondage that I really didn't have anything to offer 
anybody. 

Once Sarah was able to come out into the various aspects of her identity in 
an embodied and prideful way, she realized that "They can t touch me now." 

I'm known as the bad nigger in the church, but it's not that I'm a bad 
nigger, .it's just that they can't touch me 

Maria spoke clearly about how her integrity and her experience of 
faith are intricately entwined. 

I have a lot to offer. I have a lot of love and a lot of challenge, and 
that's my integrity That s my faith experience. And my being a 
lesbian and my being a faithful woman are intricately connected 
with one another. I cannot split myself and say, "I'm a woman of 
faith over here and I'm a lesbian over here." 

In her story, Laurie spoke about how she began to "feel pushed by the 
kinds of things (she) was preaching." 



77 



which were that relationship is important, integrity is priority... 

the kinds of things I needed to hear. And the way that I began to 
understand my call at that point was that embodying who I am was 
really what I was called to do much more than preaching what were 
all supposed to do. 

In relation to the ordination process. Amy stated that "Trying to live 
with the integrity that you are...the way God made you. That's something 
that I'm really coming to now and being able to understand more.'' 

3) Most women spoke about specific relationships that have 
impacted their decisions regarding coming out. 

Several women spoke about relationships with family members that 
either hindered or encouraged their ability to come out. Other women spoke 
about accountabilities to lesbians and gay men that risked being open and 
who experienced discrimination or even death as a result. 

Kate and Jennifer spoke about their parents and how not coming out 

to them hinders their ability to come out in other places in their lives. Kate 

spoke very explicitly about her parents and how her protectiveness of them 

keeps her from being more open in the church. "Everytime I think about 

being more public about coming out, it very quickly gets pushed back to, 

"Well, what will that do to Mom and Dad?" She illustrated the power of this 

dilemma by sharing a recent dream: 

I had a dream that there were two big elephants in the yard dying. 
And I knew that they were dying and I knew that they would die, so 
it didn t surprise me to see them dying. But I knew that I had to run 
past these elephants to go out ..there was a whole group of people 
playing softball. I wasn t aware that it was just women, it could have 
been. This was at our farm where I have not lived for a number of 
years and my parents don't live there anymore either But it didn't 
take too much imagination to see who these elephants were there, 
dying, between me and going out to do what I wanted to do 

Jennifer expressed a similar concern specifically in relation to her 
identity as a lesbian clergywoman and her ability to "witness" in that role. 



78 



She used to believe that she could do her ministry and be "an advocate" 
without coming out to her parents. 

But then I've come to understand that I cant really do a lot of things 
I might like to do because I don't want them to read it in the newspaper. 
I don't think that's fair to them. So. I think that until I make some 
peace about that with my family, it really constricts my ministry and 
my ability to witness as a lesbian however that might take shape. 

Maria's parents learned about her lesbianism from an annonymous 

letter. Her father thought it was "hate mail" and chose not to deal with it at 

all as a result. Maria thinks this is because he "could not understand this. 

There is no word, no concept of lesbian women in Latin culture." Maria was 

not very close to her father so she didn't feel compelled to challenge his 

denial. But her mother was "a different story." 

I felt like I was living a lie. I was living under her roof and she knew 
of this (through the letter) and I wasn't saying anything. So I took 
her out to dinner one night and told her about this relationship I was 
having with this woman. 

Her mother said that she was "worried" for Maria and that she didn't want 
her to "make a decision now for the rest of (her) life." After that 
conversation, they didn't speak about Maria's lesbianism for over a year and 
a half. Maria insisted however, that out of respect it was still important to 
her that she spoke to her mother directly. 

Laurie felt certain that she would "lose" her parents if she spoke to 
them about her lesbianism, but decided to risk telling them anyway when 
she and her lover moved in together five years ago. "We didn't want to deal 
with all the closetedness around that." To Laurie's surprise, instead of losing 
her parents she feels as though she "gained them in a much deeper way." 
She went on to say that because of their response, she has been able to 
continue to come out in other arenas of her life.. .including the church. "One 
of the reasons why I have been able to continue to come out is not only 



79 



because I came out to them, but because of their response....(I)t has enabled 
me to do all the different steps up until coming out at church...and coming 
out at church.'' 

In their stories, Theresa and Amy both spoke about their 
commitments to gay male friends who suffered abuse because they risked 
being out. Theresa spoke passionately about her friend Andrew who left the 
church because of the rejection and hypocrisy he experienced. Theresa 
returned to the church after a two year absence because in part, she felt she 
"owed it" to her "friend Andrew who left and who will never be back in 
ministry again." Amy stated her commitment to the man who was murdered 
and his lover. "I feel a responsibility to Peter and William and to their 
relationship. There's such a history that I need to carry forth." 

Una spoke about how her relationship with the Black and Hispanic 
community hinder her ability to come out. "It's just not possible right now 
for me to keep my commitment to work in the Black and Hispanic 
community in a parish setting and to be out." 

4) All of the women of color spoke explicitly about the 
intersection of their racial/ethnic and sexual identities. 

All the women of color (Sarah, Una, Maria, Theresa) spoke about their 
racial identity and the intersection of racial and sexual 
oppression/empowerment throughout the course of the discussion. This is 
in contrast to the white women who rarely (if ever) explicitly name their 
racial identity as impacting decisions or choices. 

Sarah spoke about coming out in relationship to all aspects of her 
identity; including Black, poor, orphaned and lesbian. "Before I even got to 
understanding that I was a lesbian, I had a lot of coming out to do." 



80 



Maria shared a similar understanding. 

The place of integrity for me has been to be very out, about all of 
who I am I am Latina, I am lesbian, I am of Irish and Swiss heri- 
tage 

Theresa often equated her experience and/or fear of rejection as a 
lesbian with her experience as a Mexican American woman. "Whether I'm in 
or out I still have my God...Whether I get rejected as a Mexican American 
doesn't have anything to do with my relationship with God." 

Una often equated her experience of her racial/ethnic identity with 
her understanding of herself as a lesbian. 

"God created me Black, Hispanic and then lesbian. There wasn't any 
question in me whether parts of the way I have come to my sexuality 
were chosen or were imposed. There was not a question but that God 
gave it to me. Just the way God gave me my race. And my gender And 
so God loved all those things about me. And so I had to find a way to live 
with the hatred that wasn't supposed to be. 

WHO ARE MY PEOPLE? TO WHOM AM I ACCOUNTABLE? 

All of the women spoke most explicitly about accountabilities with 
more implicit implications regarding who they considered their people to be. 
There were three general categories of accountabilities that seemed to 
emerge: 

1 ) Women who felt accountable to "all of creation" even though the 
level of commitment to different segments varied. 

2) Women who felt accountable to more specific populations of people. 

3) Women who felt accountable to an ideal or spiritual dimension of 
their call. 

A fourth theme emerged which related to women of color and their 
articulation of diverse accountabilities. 



81 



4) The women of color spoke about their accountabilities as 
encompassing explicitly diverse constituency groups. 

1 ) Women who felt accountable to "all of creation." 

Amy was the only woman in this category who spoke of her 
accountability to "creation" as her primary point of entry. The other two 
women spoke about accountabilities within more intimate arenas of their 
own lives before extending their understanding to encompass the broadest 
spheres. 

Amy shared that she is accountable to all of "Gods creation" and her 
boundaries regarding how she attends to that accountability are determined 
by her own physical and emotional limitations. 

I feel accountable to all of God's creation and it's not just a matter of 
who. but what. For me. its not just limited to people. It's limited to the 
resources we have, I have, in this universe. 

Nancy and Una also spoke about broad accountabilities, but indicated 
differing levels of commitment between more intimate arenas and a more 
generally defined respect for life and creation. Nancy shared the following 
reflections: 

I think the question "Who are my people?" is a question about where 
do we draw boundaries, but those boundaries can't be hard and fast. 
For me there are degrees of accountability rather than either/or 
accountabilities. Some relationships are very close and to those I feel 
highly accountable, and some that I have a different kind of relation- 
ship to so the accountability is different. 

Nancy continued by also making reference to accountabilities she holds due 
to her privileges related to social location. 

Then there are people who are even farther into the twilight for 
whom I'm accountable because in some ways my power, the power 
that I have, (whether it's economic privilege or whatever) affects 



82 



those people that I'm not in a face to face relationship with but 
nevertheless, I feel an accountability to them even if I don't see 
them face to face. And I'm not sure that there is anyplace way out 
there that I'm not accountable at all. It may be a total infinite regress 
of accountability, but I personally can't deal with saying either/or. 

Una spoke of a primary acountability to those whom she defines as 
"family." 

...some of whom are biological relatives... so me of whom are people 
who have come to be relatives in my relationship with them. And 
they are lots of different people. There are white people who are 
family to me, there are straight people who are family to me ... 

Una continued by stating that she is also accountable to the people that those 
who she considers family identify with. 

The fact that there are these different constituency groups who are 
family to me makes me accountable to the groups that they identify 
with in some sort of way 

She then broadened her circle of accountability to include "every being that 
God created" but stated that her commitment to that broader sphere is of a 
different sort than those closer to her. 

And then there is the sense that because I consider myself to be a 
child of God, that then, way out, I'm accountable to every thing and 
every being that God created. But in a very different way than in 
the other spaces. 

2) Women who felt accountable to more specific populations. 

Women who fell within this category spoke of accountabilities to 
themselves, to those "ready for the revolution,"' to lesbians and gay men, to 
the leadership of the church and to the congregation. 

Sarah spoke about how her first accountability is to herself. "I 
understand that I cant be everything for everybody.. ..and then I can tell 
people in a nice way that I'm not Jesus. I'm not about to be crucified on any 



83 



cross come Calvary day.'' Sarah also spoke about how her larger 
communities of accountability shifted when she came out as a lesbian. 

I realized that as a people. ..as Black people, we got all kinds of inter- 
nalized racism. you know, hatred. I mean it can be something as 
flimsy as whether you're Black Carribean or Black Haitian... Black 
Southern. ..just so many reasons why there are different factions. 
Black folks not liking other Black folks. So when I came out as a 
lesbian... that's when I had to realize who I was really accountable 
to. And that's when I had to understand about justice and I under- 
stood the term praxis. Those who I am accountable for are those 
who are with me. 

Sarah illustrated her point with a metaphor related to when she was a 
number runner. 

It's like when I used to be a runner When I get on that mark, and 
all those people who are on that mark with me ..that's who I am 
accountable for. And all those who are not on that mark. then, you 
ain't ready for the revolution. So I am accountable to all those who 
are on that mark. And when we say, "Let's go!" then baby, let's go 
And that means Black, white, you know, class don't matter, race 
don't matter, gender don't matter Its not a particular group any- 
more. It just isn't. 

Later in the conversation, Sarah further clarified that those who are on the 
mark" are people who are in struggle and who hunger for a fuller life. 

There's a wonderful saying by John Dunn who said that every 
man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind. 
(Excuse the exclusive language, but that's the quote!) That to me 
says that our lives are interconnected, and that we can't afford 
to be polarized as a people who are in struggle. So I'm accountable 
to those people who want to live a much fuller life. We are 
accountable to each other. 



I shared that I felt an accountability to "the larger picture," but felt as 
though my only access to impacting that was in a smaller, more intimate 
arena. 



84 



In one way I feel accountable to the larger picure, but I think the 
way to affect that with any integrity is to live within a smaller sphere 
with smaller accountabilities. The slogan, "Think globally, act locally." 
comes to mind. 

I went on to share that although I have been out as a lesbian for over twelve 
years, I've only recently started to address heterosexism as a structural 
injustice. Until two or three years ago, I concentrated my advocacy and 
political energies on anti-racism, class elitism and more generally defined 
issues related to feminism. "It's not as though these issues are unrelated to 
me, but a significant piece was missing. I do feel accountable to the larger 
picture, but how can I be accountable there with integrity if I'm not even 
addressing my closest concern?" In that regard, I named lesbians as an 
important community of accountability for me. Similar to Sarah however, I 
named how it's not enough to just name accountability to a group of people 
based solely on a particular identity. 

Your earlier reference, Sarah, about who is on the mark with you 
also really struck home. I don't feel at home with all lesbians. Accoun- 
tability to me means relying on people to help me push at my growing 
edges. ..and for me to help push at theirs. Its a dynamic, growing 
process, but it requires a willingness to be engaged in the journey I 
guess that's how I would define who stands at "the mark." Those who 
are eager and/or willing to push at those edges. And not all lesbians 
are on that mark. 

Kate also shared that she felt an accountability to lesbians as well as 
gay men....especially within the church. But she spoke at length about her 
experience of conflicting accountabilities, because she also named the church 
as an important accountability to her. 

There are some people to whom I feel accountable in some way that 
have a certain kind of power over me because of the way things are 
structured. I may not like that and I may think it's a bad way to struc- 
ture the church, but the truth is that I'm accountable to the leaders of 
the church because I'm a (denominational affiliation) and continue to 
make that choice. And if the denominational leadership knew (that I 
am a lesbian) I would be told that there is no call for me in the church. 



85 



Kate shared the following reflections that illustrate her experience of what 
she calls "clashing accountabilities.'' 

For a long time I lived with the sense that there wasn't really a need 
for me to deal with coming out. I tried to live in an authentic a way 
as possible in a lot of different places. That seemed to work for awhile. 
Nobody ever said to me, "Are you a lesbian?" so I never felt that I had 
lied. ...including the whole ordination process. And there are all kinds 
of things going on in our congregation which are inclusive of gay and 
lesbian people in a very up front kind of way But a year ago there were 
three gay men who were very open about being gay and who were cer- 
tified for ordination on the west coast. And then gradually, the process 
went along and they were de-certified because they refused to say that 
they would be celibate. I know two of them and on one level I feel like 
I'm not as clear anymore about what it means to be supportive of them... 
to be in solidarity with them. What it means that in their honesty about 
who they are, they have given up the chance to be ordained If I said 
the same thing, I wouldn't be ordained either. So sometimes, it feels 
to me personally like I have chosen to remain more accountable to the 
leadership in the church than I am to these brothers ..and there are 
a number of sisters, too, that I would add to that. 

Kate spoke about how living within those contradictions is becoming more 
and more difficult. 

Instead of my becoming more comfortable with that and living into 
that and saying "Well, this is how the world is..." it's increasingly 
more difficult for me to live with the rules that I set up for myself 
even three years ago. or two years ago. And it feels like more and 
more clashes of these centers of accountability they are increasingly 
banging up against each other. I don't know what to do with that. 

Later in the conversation, she again articulated the complexity of her 
dilemma. 

The reality is that I'm always being told, "The church into which 
you are called and which you have promised in some fashion to 
be accoutnable says that you should not be here ' That s about me 
and a lot of other folks too It gets back to what you were saying 
before, Nancy Do I then cede the territory to someone else by 
saying that I am really more accountable to the people who have 
been open about being gay and lesbian than I am to this church 
which has kicked them out? And which would kick me out if I were 
more open than I am? 



86 



Kate went on to share her fears that she is sometimes being "more 
transformed" than "transforming." 

I have a lot of good days when I think that the kinds of things we're 
saying in the congregation is really important and that its impor- 
tant that someone be there to say them. But then there are other days 
when I think that's a bunch of baloney and I'm only fooling myself. 
On those days I wonder if I'm being more transformed by staying in 
this operation than I am transforming anybody. Those clashes seem 
much more real to me. ...year by year. ...day by day. 

Laurie spoke of the irony of how she still feels accountable to people 
in her congregation even though she has been through such a traumatic 
experience at their hands. 

There is half the congregation who have said "yes" to me and half 
who have said "no. " And there are a lot of people on both sides that I 
really love a lot. And most of those people aren't my people and yet. 

I have connections with them real strong connections. I have 

had a very potent ministry with them over the past two and a half 
years... and so I [eel like in some ways (even though I'm not clear about 
it because of what's happened to me) I am accountable to them Is that 
about accountability or is that about love and what is the connection 
between those two things? 

Jennifer spoke about how her people and her community of 
accountability are lesbians who are religiously affiliatated. She shared a 
"fantasy dream" of hers that has to do with starting a "lesbian church." 

That's what I keep thinking about when I question "Who are my 
people?" I think about that in conversation with friends and in my 
own search for some grounding spiritually. One of the things that 
I think has been most disabling about my struggle in the church is 
how it undermines my spiritual life. 

3) Women who felt accountable to an ideal or spiritual 
dimension of their call. 

Maria and Theresa spoke most explicitly about this dimension of their 
accountabilities. They are distinct from the other two categories because 
they neither name a broad based accountability to "all of creation" nor do 



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they name a specific group or constituency to whom they feel connected to 
in this regard. Each spoke specifically of their accountabilities in a spiritual, 
vocational arena. 

Maria shared that her primary accountability is to a "ministry of 
prophetic word." 

When I was ordained I was charged to be a prophet. And I was charged 
to be a prophet to all those who were oppressed. And so I feel accoun- 
table to a ministry of prophetic word. ..and so the people encompass 
any and all who need to hear prophetic word, which can be comforting 
or challenging. 

Maria went on to speak more explicitly about her specific accountabilities in 
relation to the above statement. 

The Bible has some authority for me, I'm accountable to that, to a degree 
But I'm also accountable to a feminist critical hermeneutic of the Bible... 
not just the book. ...So my accountability is to continue to be teaching and 
reinterpreting and studying the Gospel and what that means for me And 
that is my primary accountability as opposed to any individual person or 
group of people. I seek accountability to myself and to scripture those 
things in dialogue And the church comes after that In terms of degrees 
of accountability, the church is not number one because the church is 
made up of human beings... and that's not my first oath of loyalty if I'm 
going to be honest with myself 

To illustrate her point, Maria shared her frustration with the Hispanic caucus 
of her denomination and how she feels as though she stands with them as a 
Latina but they don't stand with her as a lesbian feminist. 

Most of them are not going to stand with me on that line. So I have to be 
accountable to the call of the Gospel in that place. And not to the indivi- 
dual people, or the group So my accountability in that place is to say 
to them, "You're not standing in solidarity with me. ..so how can you ask 
me to stand in solidarity with you? We have to be in this together or we re 
not being faithful people ." 

Theresa changed the word "accountability" to "representation" and felt 
that who she is called to represent is God. 



U 



I changed the word "accountability" to "representation." That's how 
I can better connect with it. "Who do I represent?" And that's God or 
Jesus as the human. 

She went on to explain how in representing God, she assumes suffering to be 
a consequence of being faithful in an unjust world. 

I've always got to represent God and in doing that I'm going to sacrifice. 
I didn't really choose to sacrifice, but just in holding to that I'm going 
to lose ...I'm going to suffer... I'm going to sacrifice. I'm going to lose 
friends. That's not all there is to life... just the painful times. But I just 
assume that in order to act like Jesus that's what I have to do. ..is suffer. 

Theresa went on to state that she doesn't feel called to represent Hispanic 
people as a people, or lesbians or "any one part of myself." She feels 
accountable to the "God in me." 

I'm accountable, if I'm a Christian, to act like one To act like Jesus. 
I mean. I don't think Gandhi felt accountable to anyone other than 
his own spirit. Or King. Even though King was an academic and 
grounded in academia as well. I think King followed God's call. And 
in that way was representing people and the oppressed and so forth 

4) The women of color spoke about their accountabilities as 
encompassing explicitly diverse constituency groups. 

All the women of color named their communities of accountability as 
composed of a variety of racial/ethnic, gender and sexual identities. 

Una spoke of how her "family" included "lots of different people. They 
are white people who are family to me, there are straight people who are 
family to me...." Una also expressed frustration at what she felt was an 
avoidance on the part of white women in the group to explicitly name their 
communities. 

For me, where all of this discussion begins is with my self identity, and 
being attuned to that. And that how I am defined throughout my life or 
at various points in my life determines who my people are. This culture 
never afforded me the opportunity of glossing over who I was. I think 



89 



that there's a way, as white people, that you're allowed to gloss over who 
you are. And that impacts who you're accountable to. It certainly does 
for me. and I'm real clear about that. 

Sarah spoke of her community of accountability as composed of "all 
those who are on the mark...And that means Black, white, you know...class 
don't matter, race don't matter, gender don't matter. It's just not a particular 
group anymore. It just isn't." 

In relation to the Hispanic caucus, Maria articulated how she didn't 
feel accountable to "individual people or to the group." Instead, she felt 
called to "be accountable to the Gospel." 

Theresa offered the following metaphor of a relay race to illustrate 
her understanding of accountabilities. 

I guess I'm just here for awhile. ..and I'm going to run that race and I'm 
going to carry (the baton) here and hand it to somebody else. It may be 
a lesbian. it may be a straight woman... it may be a Hispanic person from 
Jamaica or it may be a Mexican from Mexico. ..but I'm going to hand it to 
somebody and trust that God within them will move it along a little farther 
towards ending the race. 

Theresa went on to state that she does not feel accountable to that which she 
cannot recognize as "truth." 

There's no way I could feel accountable to our United States government, 
or to my boss, or to the church as a structure because that's not truth to 
me. It comes from within. I trust that God within me to connect with 
others It's about the only thing I can trust. 

WHAT DO I BELIEVE? WHAT ARE THE SOURCES FOR MY 
AUTHORITY? WHAT ARE THE NEW EMERGENT PARADIGMS FOR 
MINISTRY? 

The discussion on these two questions merged, and was more 
individually focused and seemed less affected by the dynamics and 
interaction of the group. Because so many differing opinions were 



90 



represented, content themes did not emerge as clearly as in the previous 
discussions. All the women did however, speak about what they believed 
(and did not believe) in relation to one or more of the following categories: 

1 ) Images of God which were all characterized by change and 
constantly emerging manifestations. 

2) Images of Jesus, Christ and the meaning of the cross. 

3) Interpretations of scripture, history, tradition and the church. 

4) Interpretations of sin. 

I've chosen to present the results of this section by outlining the women's 
comments in relation to the above categories and by including a fifth 
regarding new paradigms for ministry. 

5) Reflections on new paradigms for ministry. 

1) Images of God which were all characterized by change and 
constantly emerging manifestations. 

Each of the women spoke about images of God in relation to what they 
believe in, and those images ranged from an omnipotent understanding of 
God's power in the world to a primarily immanent understanding of God 
whose power is dependent upon and manifest in relationship to humankind. 
Even in the midst of this diversity however, all the women spoke of the 
mystery, or ongoing revelation of God's presence in the world; signaling a 
foundational belief in change, growth and transformation. 

Una spoke most explicitly of a belief in God as all powerful and in 
control. 



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I believe that there is a creator which various people have called God 
or Father or Mother or Goddess or whatever... that is a power, a source 
that set all of this in motion. And most importantly, that this power 
or source chose to be one of us. And that can be an example for me. It 
is most assuredly a way out, and a promise, solid promise And a promise 
that doesn't rely on me or any of us. 

Una went on to state that "God has authority for me...God has power. I'm not 
always sure what that means, but to say that God has power over 
every thing... over everything begins to describe what the power is." Una told 
the following story to illustrate her point. 

I was riding in a car with some friends who were talking about nuclear 
war and they asked if God would allow that to happen. I said, "Yes." If 
that happens then I truly believe that there will be some life in that... 
some transformation. Even though in our notion that means total de- 
struction. That doesn't mean that I don't stand behind movements that 
would want us rid of nuclear arms or of things that destroy our lives. 
But I have this sense of God's power and authority as somehow calling 
forth an acknowledgement in me that God is in control. And that even 
out of the nasty stuff that we do ...life goes on. The journey continues. 
Nothing can separate us from the love of God. 

Una continued by sharing that this knowledge comes out of her experience. 
"In my experience, out of the worst evil there has been a blessing. This isn't 
an intellectual thing for mc.this is experiential." 

When I'm in my Good Friday moods, I remember that it won't last for- 
ever because God is in control. God is a greater source of power than me 
and means for me to keep on living, and for me to be productive and to 
be fruitful as well as to experience the suffering which is transforming 
and offers opportunity for growth and learning 

Theresa represented a similar belief in the power of God and certainty 
in God's goodness even in the midst of suffering. "I've always got to 
represent God and in doing that I'm going to sacrifice. I didn't really choose 
to sacrifice, but just in holding to that I'm going to lose... I'm going to 
suffer. ..I'm going to sacrifice." Theresa continually spoke of her belief in a 



92 



God who sustains even through the suffering that she assumes to be part of 
life. "No matter what happens to me, I still have my God." 

Maria offered the most striking contrast to the notion of an 
omnipotent God who is in control. 

(In reference to Unas comments) That's not my God. and that's not my 
Jesus and that's not my Christ. It's really hard, because I almost wish 
that I could believe in that again. It would make my life simpler. But I 
don't believe in the transcendent power of God. I don't believe that Jesus 
was the God incarnate. I believe that we are all God incarnate... and not 
just this man Jesus. 

She went on to challenge the notion of an ail powerful God with the following 
questions: 

Why did God save Isaac and not Jesus and not save the young woman 
( Jeptha's daughter) and not save any of the victims in the Holocaust 
and not save Steven Biko and not save Oscar Romero? Does God pick 
and choose like that? And if that's God, then that's the God I don t be- 
lieve in. That's where I have my sacred no.' 

Maria continued by sharing an image of God that she does believe in. 

I believe in the depth of mystery, and God in the void (as opposed to 
God in the light.) Many of the mystics talk about meeting God in the 
dark night of the soul, not on the mountaintop Maybe Gods on the 
mountaintop too. and we once in a while have transfiguration ex- 
periences but most of the time that's not where God is Most of the 
time God is in the still small voice and not in the rushing wind. 

Maria went on to share that the depth of mystery is so great that all our 
attempts at naming God are inadequate. But for Maria, aspects of the divine 
include "a sense of wholistic mind, body and spirit.. .that there isn't a 
difference between them...that God is me with all of you." 

Nancy also spoke explicitly about her disbelief in the notion of an 
omnipotent, all powerful deity. Her understanding of God is found in 
relationship. 



93 



If I attribute omnipotence to God, I'm in a bind. I'm in an intellectual 
bind that I cant get out of. The only way that I can manage to believe 
and stay on the journey is to say that God and I are co-creating here. 
God is not ultimately responsible for either the good or the evil. 

Nancy continued by stating that belief of this sort is about "potential" rather 
than actuality. "It is not something very definite or concrete or or that has 
very much shape." She continued by sharing some reflections of how such a 
belief requires the recognition that one can never experience the "totality" of 
God. 

I embody something that you believe, but I am not all of what you 
believe. I'm not the totality, what I do is point to the totality, but 
it's never fully contained. If it ever got contained, it would be an 
idol. So what I give allegiance to is life and spirit and mystery. I 
believe in that totality, but know I'll never fully realize or experi- 
ence it fully. 

Sarah also images God in relationship and spoke specifically about the 
people in her congregation as a source for that knowledge. 

I believe in those people. It's like, when I'm preaching some Sundays 
and I know some of the trials and tribulations of folks in the church... 
and there's something about looking and seeing their pain, or being 
in the midst of it or being in the midst of their joy and their hopes and 
their dreams and their aspirations that it just makes me say, "I know 
there's a God somewhere.'* 

She spoke of "right-relationship" as the key to tap the spiritual source of 
empowerment that she names as God. She stated that right-relationship has 
to begin with yourself. "There are some steps to take before you can be in 
right relationship, and that's talking about, Who are you?' Where are you?' 
Where are you going?" 

2) Images of Jesus, Christ and the meaning of the cross. 

The women's images of Jesus were as varied as those expressed about 
God, ranging from Sarah who believes it is crucial to "dismantle the cross" to 



94 



Una who believes that through Jesus, God became "one of us." Several 
women did mention Jesus in relationship to their beliefs however, and most 
are wrestling with traditional interpretations; especially ones that equate 
suffering as a means to salvation. 

Sarah spoke most emphatically against traditional interpretations of 
the Jesus story. 

I have problems with Jesus for a lot of reasons. The way Jesus has 
been used in the Black church is one way that keeps us in bondage. 

Sarah stated that because the cross has been used to justify suffering, she 
thinks that "we need to dismantle it." She believes that "passive suffering is 
an act of cowardice more than anything else." 

Amy also stated that she cannot believe "in a justification of 
suffering...that there is any redemption in that." She is certain that the 
"violence people experience, the violence Jesus experienced" is not "justified 
to be able to get to God." 

Theresa agreed that an interpretation of the cross that teaches people 
to "suffer well" is ultimately destructive. 

I think for some of my people, Mexican American people, a certain 
understanding of the crucifix and the cross have kept them in bon- 
dage. You know, to suffer well. 

Theresa went on to say however, that she believes the symbol of the cross 
and Jesus resurrection are ultimately about change and hope as opposed to 
passive suffering. 

No matter what the pain or whatever, there's always the potential 
to come out of it. I know you (Sarah ) don't like the Jesus story, but 
that's the whole thing about the cross 



95 



Theresa continued by sharing that "out of the scars of my own oppression I 
was a very violent person at one time." She spoke of how she lost her lover 
because she was "emotionally abusive" toward her. Filled with regret, 
Theresa spoke to her minister about what had happened. "I let my past 
oppressions make me into an oppressor." Theresa wondered where there 
was any "justice" in such a scenario. Her minister told her, "There's justice if 
you change." Theresa related her own experience to her understanding of 
Easter in light of Jesus' suffering. 

That's always stuck with me. That there's not justice in my being 
oppressed if I'm going to continue to be an oppressor. There's no 
justice for my even having been oppressed. It's just like Jesus for 
me. Where's the justice in his suffering if there's not Easter? The 
potential for change is a real salvation... a real saving. 

Jennifer also spoke of how she rejects any notion of passive suffering 
as salvific. "Any symbol which puts us into a perpetually passive position is 
not inviting us into life." 

Maria stated earlier that "I don't believe that Jesus was the God 
incarnate. I believe that we all are God incarnate...and not just this man 
Jesus. " Based on this belief, she shared her skepticism about traditional 
interpretations of the resurrection. 

I believe in Palm Sunday and that Palm Sunday is about a moment 
of triumph But in that triumph is tremendous risk tremendous 
vulnerability And I believe in Good Friday because I believe we 
live in Good Friday most of the time And I believe in Holy Saturday 
because Holy Saturday is that waiting place that sort of "I don t 
know" place But I don't know what I believe about the resurrection. 
I guess its in little places I have little resurrections And I have 
little hopes But I'm not sure I have a big hope. 

Kate also spoke about her belief in those "moments of hope" and 
asked: 

Why can't we call those moments resurrection? Other people over 
centuries have named certain things as "God" or "good "that God 



96 



gave Jesus as a sacrifice, for example. I think we need to name 
some other things that are valid. ..from our experience. 

Laurie also spoke about how her experience and understanding of 

resurrection has to do with the "little hopes." She shared a story about the 

youth group that she works with in her congregation to illustrate her point. 

They supported Laurie throughout her entire ordeal and felt frustrated with 

their lack of power and influence in the church. They were concerned that 

the important issues Laurie raised regarding heterosexism and homophobia 

would be dropped as soon as she was gone. 

I told them that I wasn't the only lesbian in the church. ..that there 
were families with lesbian and gay children and lesbian and gay 
brothers and sisters, etc. And then one of the young women in the 
group said, "Some of us here in this room might be lesbian or gay. 1 ' 
This was from a 16 year old! That's the resurrection for me. 

Laurie later spoke of how those moments aren't the "whole picture but they 
are very real." 

It's Emmanuel. God manifested in those moments. Those moments 
where we reach out and touch each other 

Laurie also shared a different perspective that is emerging for her in 
the midst of the pain and suffering she has experienced in her congregation. 

There's just been a lot of death and loss around letting go of a lot of 
beliefs that I held so dear. And some of them I didn't even know I 
held dear! Like my beliefs about Jesus. They were so gut, that I didn't 
even realize how important they were even though intellectually, 
they don t make any sense to me at all. 

She recalled an experience that happened to her when she served 
communion on the day she officially resigned from the church. 

It was communion Sunday, and though I often feel the Christ spirit, 
I rarely feel connected to the person Jesus. And I've struggled with 
the person Jesus as long as I've been in ministry and before that in 
seminary and before... It came time to do the bread, to do communion. 
The people who were going to serve communion to the congregation 
that day were the people who were on the mediation committee which 



97 



is part of the mediation process. And half of those people were sup- 
portive of me and half of those people were verbally anti. And those 
were the people who were asked to serve communion and they all 
walked up and stood in front of the chancel. And all of the people who 
were not supportive ended up on my side. And the bread and the 
cup came up and I took the bread and I started to weep. And I finally 
got it that Jesus probably wasn't composed that night when he did 
the bread, you know? He probably was weeping and really. I think 
it was the first time in my life when I felt my brother Jesus. 

Laurie went on to share that in the midst of her tremendous pain, she is 
working hard to not "get sucked back into the old way" of defining what 
suffering is; specifically that it is salvific in its own right. 



3) Interpretations of scripture, history, tradition and the 
church. 

The comments within this section focused mainly on whether the 
above classifications served as sources of authority. Again, the women's 
perspectives were extremely varied, but all expressed the belief that 
traditional interpretations need to be scrutinized by historical relativity. 

Sarah spoke most clearly against the authority of tradition. 

The Bible is not a sacred text for me. Christianity doesn't mean any 
more to me than Buddhism. Hari Krishna or whatever. Being in the 
church is a vehicle to empower people. 

She also offered her understanding of what ministry entails. "People need to 
be embodied and empowered." She feels that "the system" (what is 
considered normative) is disempowering for the majority of people, and she 
views ministry as offering people tools for empowerment. Sarah shared the 
reflections of Carter Woodson who spoke of the tyranny of psychological 
rape. 

If you rape the psyche of somebody ..you don't have to tell them where 
to walk or when to go. They'll do it. So (ministry) is like freeing people's 



98 



psyche and ve're all victims of it. Whether we're white, Black, whatever. 
Because if we hold up the system, then we're acting out of being raped. 
We think we need to hold up the structure and we can't be flexible with 
it. 



I spoke my own journey after my ordination from defensively 
defining what I am not (related to assumptions grounded in traditional 
theology) toward embodying more of who I am (lesbian, woman, feminist.) 

That shift made me more radical. It was a much more powerful and 
creative place for me to move from, but it made me much more 
threatening to the institutional church. My source of authority 
shifted from tradition to myself in relation to community. But it's 
a constant struggle to keep moving from that creative space and 
to not continue to define myself in relation to the structures that 
try to tell me (and constantly do) that I am not a legitimate entity. 

Laurie stated that she was able to reclaim her Christian identity only 
after she learned through feminism that it was important to give authority 
to your experience. 

(Learning to trust my experience is) what finally brought me back 
to being able to say, "Okay, I am Christian and I need to grapple with 
that heritage even though there's a lot of things that 1 really struggle 
with." But it was because I started to trust my experience that I was 
able to step in and grapple with my heritage And only then. 

Jennifer spoke in relationship to symbols of the church and the need 
to "transform" rather than "break" traditional symbols that "people really 
have used to construct meaning." 

I think if we're really going to work toward change with people ... 
with what I believe can be transformative in the church, then part 
of what I'm doing is trying to take those symbols (that have been 
used so oppressively) and reshape them 

She offered the following reflections on what she understands to be the 
characteristics of symbols that are life affirming. 

I think that symbols need both to help confirm our self identity, or 
relationship with ourselves as well as clarify our relationships 
with others. I think that symbols need to both connect us with our 



99 



past or our heritage as veil as open things up. Scripture is a good 
example. Scripture is about some connection with tradition but we 
always have to be willing to see what we never saw before. 

Una shared a similar perspective in her belief in the necessity to "deal 
with the old stories" but to place them in their relative context. 

One of (the places where) my calling leads me is to deal with the 
old names. ..the old stories and to say that the priorities that were 
set for telling the Jesus story were priorities that came out of a 
particular period in history. We're so cross focused! What about 
the focus of birth giving and of God being born of a woman at a 
point in history where women were nothing? 

Una also shared that she feels a need to focus on the old stories because she 
understands part of her call to be attentive to other people's journeys as well 
as her own. 

So you have to go to where they are. listen to what they re saying, 
learn how they ve come to understand it, understand what is death 
dealing about it and what is life giving about it, and move from 
there to the next place of life It's also important to recognize and 
teach that the thing that is life giving for a particular day, a par- 
ticular community, a particular era won't necessarily work for 
another community and it doesn't invalidate what you think. That's 
a tough one in terms of tradition. 

Una names her authority as coming from God, and she understands the 
church as an entity that gives structure to the beliefs she holds dear. 

So my sense of authority comes from the love, the regard, the power 
that set my life in motion, that comes from God. And I can stay in 
the church because the stuff that the church has messed around with 
in really bad ways has meaning. It may not always be apparent from 
reading scripture or from reading church doctrine or from taking 
oaths in the church but it's hidden therein So I can stay I can 
stay I must stay And why I must stay in that place is because in a 
way it authenticates my power The truth that is there needs or meets 
the truth that is in me And my place in Gods creation is to service 
the truth And the church holds part of that truth sometimes Most 
of the truth other times None of it on other occasions. 



100 



Maria shared that one of the reasons she still stands within the 
Christian tradition is that she sees power in the history of the Saints. "I want 
to be on that journey with them." She sees that the Saints embody what she 
calls "a sacred no' and a sacred yes" and recognizes her call to do the same. 

I don't just say an unqualified no' or an unqualified yes to my 
tradition. It involves reinterpreting the stories, loving them, and 
finding out when you have to say no to them. 

She cited the sacrifice of Isaac and the Jeptha stories as examples of texts 
that require the sacred no.' Maria also offered the following reflection on 
why she stays in the church. Similar to Una and Sarah, the church offers her 
a structure to be in community with people who share a similar hunger. 

I stay because. I've been grabbed Something has grabbed me and 
calls me forth to be in this conversation and to throw the questions 
out there so that other people can be in this conversation with me 
So that we can struggle together to find out what it means to be in 
right relationship with each other What it means to create justice 
What justice is 1 All of that keeps me here And maybe that's God. 

Kate also spoke about her experience of the sacred no as emerging in 
relation to certain scriptures that she believes are not life affirming. She 
named her sacred "no" as rooted in a deeper, prior affirmation of the 
sacredness of all life. Kate remembers that one of the first Bible verses she 
ever learned was the familiar passage: God so loved the world that He gave 
His only begotten Son." 

One day I woke up and said, "What sort of love is this 7 That God would 
give his only son...'' 

Kate went on to share a story that a friend of hers who is a Rabbi told about 
a Bible class she was leading. 

She was reading the Abraham and Isaac story in a circle of women once, 
and when she got to the part where Abraham was to take his knife and 
slay his son. the whole circle gasped They did that out of some prior 



101 



affirmation that you protect life at all costs! You don't slay it! The no' 
comes from a yes.' 

4) Interpretations of sin. 



Only two people spoke explicitly about sin, but both their comments 
were received with such unanimous agreement and shared understanding 
that I thought it important to include them as an indication of a major theme 
that emerged in the group. Both comments represent sin as acts of injustice 
rather than a more traditional pietistic representation. 

Una spoke of her believe in sin as related to consciousness regarding 
social location. 

I believe that there is what the church has traditionally called sin or 
evil. ..on an individual level and on a corporate level and the more 
unconscious we are about who we are and how we live, the more sin 
has power and control. 

Maria spoke about sin in relationship to the history of Christianity and 
the systemic abuse of power that the church has wielded in an attempt to 
remain in control. 

I see the destruction of the Goddess I see where a dualistic gentile 
Christianity overcame a more wholistic Jewish Christianity .1 see 
Augustine with his sin. I see the Inquisition and the burning of 
women who were powerful women. .1 see Luther coming along and 
denying a sense of the wholeness one could have outside of married 
life ...I see the destruction of the native peoples by the cross. I see 
laissez faire capitalism. I see apartheid. I see Reagan, and I wonder 
where is the hope? 

5) Reflections on new paradigms for ministry. 

Only a few people spoke explicitly about new paradigms, but others 
inferred reference to them in their comments regarding change and 
transformation. Explicit comments referred to new ways of structuring 
worship and community life in the congregation, new communities of 



102 



worship (i.e. lesbian church), acknowledging the necessity for a dynamic 
versus static understanding of faith, and relativizing universalized 
interpretations of scripture and tradition. Implicit comments made reference 
to transforming symbols and recognizing experience as an important source 
of authority. 

Sarah spoke about how she incorporates her immanent understanding 
of God and her commitment to empowerment as the focus of her ministry 
within the worship context. 

I start church on Sunday morning out of testimonies... a devotional few 
minutes before the real service. People talk about God. or whoever their 
deity is, how God or Jesus has sustained them on this day, or all through 
the week. Then I ask for another testimony bearing witness to how they 
survived that week, and I encourage them to talk about their lives as holy 
and sacred. That I find is my empowerment. That's my authority It really 
comes from the people. My sermon comes that morning when I walk into 
the chruch and it takes shape by the energy and interaction and lives 
of the people My authority really comes from these people. ..hearing 
their pain and saying that their pain is real but that they can come out of 
it... rise out of it. 

Sarah also spoke about how new paradigms in ministry need to address "the 
whole of people's lives" as sacred and related to their faith. She spoke of two 
ongoing "workshops" she facilitates: one on AIDS and one on sexuality. The 
underlying theme of both is empowerment. "Our lives are interconnected 
and we can't afford to be polarized as a people in struggle." 

(I tell people) "Whoever goes to the AIDS workshop for example... You're 
not making the statement that you re homosexual or that you re a drug 
addict or that your Momma might be one or your cousin. (You are) 
making the statement that you re interested in your people and you want 
to wipe out this problem in our community.'' 

She spoke in a similar manner about the sexuality workshop. 

And how I dealt with the issue around sexuality with the adults is that we 
talked about it in terms of how none of us are nappy with our sex lives. 
So it's not about a "homosexual problem.'' It's about how none of us are 
getting enough bump! We begin by naming ourselves as sexual beings. 



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How we need to feel good about masturbating and just touching our bodies. 
And we talk about how cathartic it is and how we ought to be doing it 
because we have a lot of stress in our lives. You know, we cant always 
bump when we need it! When we get to other issues related to sexuality, 
nobody is wondering who is homosexual or who is heterosexual. People 
who come to this workshop are making the statement that they want a 
much fuller sex life. 



Sarah also offered a four pronged paradigm that she developed to address 
the crises that so many of her congregants face....crises related to poverty, 
violence and general social vulnerability. The paradigm involves 1) naming 
the crisis, 2) developing a social analysis, 3) placing yourself in relationship 
to it, and 4) taking action which includes both concrete acts as well as 
theological reflection regarding the movement of God within that particular 
context. "It just shows the multifaceted ways that we can understand the 
vastness of God and also our inability to clearly define who God is in any 
particular moment." Sarah added that "celebration is always in the midst of 
(our work together in the community.) We're always singing a song. ..having 
some sort of celebration and praising people for all the work that they ve 
done to make it all possible." Sarah images this type of community to be 
more like a family than what is usually associated with church. "The church 
is dead, but the family is alive and thriving." 

Jennifer spoke of her "fantasy dream" of starting a "lesbian church" 
similar to the "Womenchurch" movement. 

I think this notion about lesbian church that I fantasize about is on a 
very house church sort of level. I have this fantasy about getting my 
friends together and we'd have church. It's the place where my sense 
of who my people are would get nurtured all in one place Rather than 
This is my people ." and Those are my people ." and. .1 feel so split all 
the time. And this fantasy about worshiping with lesbians is that I 
would have this place to think about who I was all in one place. 



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Nancy spoke about how we need to guard against new paradigms 
themselves becoming "reified.'' "The paradigm is not that we take old 
symbols and rename them so that they become reified....because eventually 
those too need to be renamed. " 

The (new) paradigm for me is (the necessity for) constant renaming, 
constant changing and experiencing new perspectives. When we 
start looking for the Holy Grail out there as though we re eventually 
going to find it. ..we're dead. I believe we have to be on the quest, but 
we have to understand that if we ever find what we're looking for, it's 
over. 

Una spoke about how one of her "methodologies for finding new 
paradigms....is to deal with the old names. ...the old stories and to say that the 
priorities that were set for telling the Jesus story were priorities that came 
out of a particular period in history." She spoke of the need to place the 
more prominant stories in context and to lift up aspects of the tradition that 
have been ignored or played down. "We're so cross focused! What about the 
focus of birth giving and of God being born of a woman at a point in history 
when women were nothing?" 

Most of the more implicit comments relating to new paradigms have 
already been quoted in the previous themes. They include Jennifer's 
comments regarding the need to "transform" rather than "break" traditional 
symbols; the emphasis that Theresa and Maria placed on the importance of 
change, transformation and mystery; Laurie's recognition of the authority 
she gives her experience; and Kate's statement regarding the necessity to 
rename that which is considered sacred based in the experience of women's 
lives. 



105 



SUMMARY OF THEMES AND ARTICULATION OF METATHEMES 

The following is a recap of the themes outlined above and the 
presentation of three metathemes that emerged throughout the course of the 
discussions. 
COMING OUT: WHAT DO YOU LOSE AND WHAT DO YOU GAIN? 

1) Women who define themselves as more closeted spoke 
mostly about the losses associated with coming out, while women 
who are more publicly open about their sexuality spoke mostly 
about that which they have gained. Of the five women who define 
themselves as more closeted, all but one are ordained or seeking ordination 
in closed denominations. 

2) Each woman articulated issues related to "call" or faith as 
affecting her decisions surrounding disclosure. The women who 
define themselves as more closeted spoke about the intersection of their 
understanding of vocation as intimately linked with the denominational 
church; a belief in God as the primary accountability; and an assumption that 
call involves responsibility to the church. The women who defined 
themselves as more open each articulated the relationship for them between 
faith and integrity (read integration.) 

3) Most women spoke about specific relationships that have 
impacted their decisions regarding coming out. Some women spoke 
of their relationships to family members while others spoke of 
accountabilities to gay men and lesbians who risked being out and who 
suffered abuse as a result. 

4) All the women of color spoke explicitly about the 
intersection of their racial/ethnic and sexual identities. This is in 
contrast to the white women who rarely made reference to their racial 
identity as impacting choices or decisions. 

WHO ARE MY PEOPLE? TO WHOM AM I ACCOUNTABLE? 

Three major categories of accountabilities emerged in the discussion 
and a fourth theme emerged overall. 



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1 ) Women who felt accountable to "all of creation" even 
though the level of commitment to different segments varied. One 

woman spoke of her accountability to "all of creation" as her primary point 
of entry while the other two named more intimate arenas of accountability 
before including the broadest spheres. 

2) Women who felt accountable to more specific populations. 

Women spoke of accountabilities to self, people on the margins working for 
change, lesbians and gay men, denominational leaders and congregations. 

3) Women who felt accountable to an ideal or spiritual 
dimension of their call. These two women articulated their primary 
accountabilities to "God" or to "a ministry of prophetic word" rather than to 
specific individuals or populations of people. 

4) The women of color spoke about their accountabilities as 
encompassing explicitly diverse constituency groups. All the women 
of color named their communities of accountability as composed of a variety 
of racial/ethnic, gender and sexual identities. 



WHAT DO I BELIEVE? WHAT ARE THE SOURCES FOR MY 
AUTHORITY? WHAT ARE THE NEW EMERGENT PARADIGMS FOR 
MINISTRY? 

These two questions became merged in the discussion which tended to 
be more individually focused as less affected by group dynamics and 
interaction. All the women chose (in part) to speak in relation to traditional 
theological categories which represent four of the five themes. Reflections 
on new paradigms constitutes a fifth theme. 

1) Images of God which were all characterized by change and 
constantly emerging manifestations. Each of the women spoke about 
their belief in God but their interpretations varied from an omnipotent 
understanding of God's power to a more immanent, relational recognition. 

2) Images of Jesus, Christ and the meaning of the cross. 

These reflections were also varied between an understanding of Jesus as the 
God incarnate to the belief that Jesus has been used to keep people in 
bondage. A common theme throughout was the belief that any 



107 



interpretation of Jesus and the cross that encourages suffering as salvific in 
its own right is destructive and not representative of the sacred. 

3) Interpretations of scripture, history, tradition and the 
church. Comments in this section focused mainly on whether the above 
classifications serve as sources of authority. Interpretations varied, but all 
believed in the necessity to scrutinize the above to historical relativity. 

4) Interpretations of sin. Sin is defined in relation to justice, 
social location and broken relationships rather than more traditional pietistic 
interpretations. 

5) Reflections on new paradigms for ministry. All the 

comments (whether explicit or implicit) referred to the need to recognize the 
dynamic versus static quality of the sacred in our midst. 



METATHEMES 

There were several metathemes that emerged throughout the 
discussions, but the following three were particularly apparent and engaging 
in relation to a feminist liberation perspective. I will outline them here, and 
discuss them each at length in the next chapter. 

1 ) Each of the women exhibited a strong sense of self 
identity and expressed confidence in the morality of their 
lesbianism. The development of their self confidence is related to role 
models, experiences of community and learning to give credibility to their 
own experience. The women of color also consistently spoke of the 
intersection of their racial/ethnic identities and their experiences of their 
lesbianism. 

2) Each of the women incorporated a hermeneutic of 
suspicion in relationship to church doctrine, scripture and 
tradition. All the women recognized the systemic nature of misogyny and 
homophobia and how they have impacted religious and social structures. 
The women of color also recognized racism as systemically operative. This 
knowledge prompted each of the women to question the legitimacy of church 
doctrine, scripture and tradition as consistently representing the sacred. 



108 



3) Each of the women were involved in the dynamic tension 
between normative and embodied sources of authority. By 

"normative" I refer to those perspectives that represent the normative gaze. 
"Embodied" sources of authority refer to insights and perspectives that arise 
out of the experiential realm of marginalized communities. 



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CHAPTER FIVE: DISCUSSION 

In this chapter I will develop the three metathemes I outlined and 
close with a discussion of the implications this inquiry raises in relation to 
conceptions of ministry and experiences of the sacred. 

DEVELOPMENT OF THE METATHEMES 

1 ) Each of the women exhibited a strong sense of self 
identity and expressed confidence in the morality of their 
lesbianism. 

Given the strength of the misogyny, heterosexism, racism and class 
elitism that are woven into the fabric of assumptions that dictate prescribed 
norms regarding morality and what is valued in our society, development of 
a strong sense of dignity and pride in her identity is an ongoing journey for 
every self identified lesbian. All of the women in the study expressed a 
sense of pride and confidence in their lesbian identities and each made 
reference to formative relationships and communities in their lives which 
encouraged this development. The white women spoke specifically about 
the evolution of their self esteem in relation to their lesbianism while the 
women of color spoke about the intersection of race, ethnicity and sexuality. 

Amy spoke of her experience of attraction to the leader of the lesbian 
and gay alliance at her college campus. The summer before that experience 
was when Amy attempted suicide because of her fears that the taunting she 
received in high school accusing her of being a lesbian was true. She also 
spoke about the power of feeling part of a community in response to the 
murder of the gay man in her college town. "This was the beginning of 



110 



my. ..coming out, and seeing the community galvinizing around this issue and 
seeing that the support was there was really important." 

Kate and Jennifer both spoke about how they had inklings in college 
about their lesbianism, but felt isolated in that identity until they attended 
seminary and discovered a larger community. Kate shared that "Those years 
were wonderful. It was the first time I had learned about women's music 
and I finally did meet people who themselves were lesbians..." Jennifer also 
reported that when she entered seminary she "didn't know that there were 
very many lesbians. I thought that there were only the ones at my college 
and the ones I happened to run into. I didn't have any vision that I had a 
community." It was during seminary that she realized she did have one. "It 
was a wonderful, wonderful time. Finding out that there was a whole world 
that was my culture and my family. It was a very exciting time. I realized 
that there were other lesbians in seminary too." Until their discovery of 
other lesbians, both Kate and Jennifer did not call themselves lesbians even 
though they had each been attracted to women and engaged in sexual 
experiences. 

Laurie also shared that it wasn't until seminary that she identified 
herself as a lesbian even though she had encounters with lesbianism in 
college. "I was in a college situation with a lot of women who were lesbian 
but didn't really talk about it. We went to lesbian bars and I guess I thought 
of myself as bisexual for awhile, although I really wouldn't use those words 
either." 

All the women of color spoke about how their first experience of 
feeling marginalized was related to their racial identities and how that 
knowledge impacted their experience of their lesbianism. 



Ill 



Sarah spoke of the importance of "coming out into her Blackness" and 
how coming out as a lesbian was eased as a result. She also spoke about the 
importance of "strong Black women" role models in her life, such as Audre 
Lorde, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. When Sarah decided she wanted to 
pursue ordained ministry but felt dismayed that there were "no images" out 
there of Black lesbian clergywomen, she remembered Toni Morrison's 



encouragement that she had to "create herself." She was able to do so out of 
a strong sense of self identity that was nurtured, in part, by those role 
models. 

Theresa spoke her grandmother's strong influence and how she taught 
her that love was the strongest defense against the racism she experienced 
as a child. Theresa translated that message to include the bigotry she 
experiences as a lesbian. 

Una spoke about how the roots of her identity were formed during the 
early years of her childhood when she grew up in a Jamaican, West Indian 
and Caribbean community. It was not until she moved out of that 
community into a white suburb that she realized that her "skin color was a 
problem." It was the strength of that early community experience that 
helped Una realize that her skin color was "a problem for other people that 
got imposed on me." When she came out to herself at age 18, she 
experienced her lesbianism in the same way. "God loved all those things 
about me, and I had to find a way to live with the hatred that wasn't 
supposed to be." 

Maria spoke about her childhood experiences of racism and how she 
always found a home in the church. As an adult she began attending a 
Protestant church with an active lesbian and gay pressence. After 



112 



discovering that community, she decided to embody her long standing call to 
ministry by attending seminary as an open lesbian. 

The testimonies of each of these women bear witness to the 
importance of role models and communities in their lives as marginalized 
individuals. In relation to the "Spirals of Conversion" which were presented 
earlier, trusting personal experience when living on the boundaries is a 
crucial tool in deflecting the self hatred engendered by the normative gaze. 
The support of role models and communities of pride in the development of 
that trust and the ability to sustain and nurture it cannot be underestimated. 

2) Each of the women incorporated a hermeneutic of 
suspicion in relationship to church doctrine, scripture and 
tradition. 

Because each of the women possessed strong self identities in relation 
to their marginalized postures, they each experienced incongruities between 
what they were told about themselves (by church, society, etc.) and what 
they experienced to be true. These experiences of incongruity led each one 
to recognize that institutional race, gender, sexuality and class oppression is 
operative in the religious as well as secular structures; therefore claims of 
authority emerging out of those structures are themselves suspect. The 
women incorporated a hermeneutic of suspicion in that they each challenged 
the authority of doctrine, scripture and tradition by either relativising truth 
claims or denouncing the structure altogether. 

The most apparent representation of the women's incorporation of a 
hermeneutic of suspicion emerged in the discussion regarding beliefs and 
new paradigms. The themes represent this fact in that the women all chose 
to speak in relation to classical theological distinctions, yet each were 



113 



relativized in relation to women's experience and assumption. For example, 
each of the women spoke about belief in God, but each also challenged 
normative representations of God as expressed through history, scripture 
and tradition. Even Una (who presented the most explicitly traditional 
representation of God in her belief in God's omnipotence) acknowledged that 
the sacredness of God is not always accurately represented in scripture or 
the doctrines of the church. Women also spoke in a variety of ways about 
Jesus and the cross, but there was a consistent challenge expressed against 
any interpretation that condoned passive suffering or that recognized 
suffering as salvific in and of itself. Discussions surrounding the authority 
of scripture, history, tradition and the church were laced with the necessity 
to place claims within their particular social/historical context and to judge 
them accordingly. The authority of the church was particularly challenged. 
Although the level of suspicion varied between each participant and 
even between each topic, each of the women articulated their recognition of 
the institutionalized dimension of oppression by challenging claims that 
conflict with their understanding of the sacred as based in their experience 
and the experiences of other marginalized people. 

3) Each of the women were involved in the dynamic tension 
between normative and embodied sources of authority. 

With the exception of Sarah, all the women in the study embody both 

privileged and marginalized aspects of identity in relation to race, class, 

gender and sexuality distinctions. Standards of authority that represent the 

normative gaze are by definition exclusive of the well being of all women 

and marginalized men, yet that reality is often hidden beneath the guise of 

universality and/or commitments to the tenents of liberalism. Normative 



114 



assumption is extremely seductive; especially when one or more aspects of 
identity represent privileged status. The promise of acceptance and security 
is a lure that can serve as motivation to compromise, hide or assimilate 
marginal aspects of self identity. The very real threat to physical safety, 
economic security and emotional well-being also serves to encourage 
compartmentalization, shame and fear among marginalized constituencies. 
For lesbians, this tension plays itself out particularly in relation to disclosure. 

All the women in the study experienced the ambiguity of attempting 
to live embodied lives in an alientated church and society, and all have given 
credibility to embodied sources of authority which have enabled them to 
experience pride in their lesbian identities in an intensely homophobic 
church and society. Specifically in relation to coming out publicly in the 
church however, the closeted women tended to place more credibility upon 
normative ecclesiastical sources of authority while the open women tended 
to place credibility within a more embodied sphere. 

Four of the five women who are more closeted are ordained or seeking 
ordination in closed denominations and the one woman who is ordained in 
an open denomination has acquired a great deal of respect and status within 
her region. Two of the women are women of color and face the additional 
vulnerability of racist oppression. The losses regarding economic security, 
status, and vocational identity are very real and present threats to these 
women. With the exception of Una, all spoke of the compromises they make 
by their decisions and each engage in an ongoing evaluation of their 
assumptions. 

Three of the five women who are more out are ordained in open 
denominations while the other two are ordained or seeking ordination in 
closed communities. With the exception of Sarah, each of these women 



115 



spoke of the losses associated with coming out, including job security 
(Laurie) possibly ordination (Amy) and the recognition of somewhat token or 
diminished status within the institution. Sarah articulated that "she didn't 
have anything to lose because she never had anything.'' The women 
ordained in open denominations ostensibly do not have to face the loss of 
clerical standing or vocational identity. Amy and Sarah do. Amy may not be 
approved for ordination and Sarah feels as though no matter what happens, 
They cant touch me now.'" All the open women also spoke about the gains 
regarding a sense of integrity and security that an embodied assumption 
brings, and stated that the gains far outweighed the losses. 

Questions regarding disclosure have divided the lesbian community 
almost as severely as race and class distinctions have. Two poles of analysis 
have characterized the debate, and both were represented by women in the 
study: 1 ) The belief that ail lesbians should come out of the closet so that we 
will have a stronger voice and more influence by sheer number, and 2) the 
belief that coming out or remaining closeted is a personal decision that each 
woman must make in relation to her own situation. The social reality of 
class, race, gender and sexual oppression render each perspective 
inadequate. For many lesbians, coming out would engender physical and/or 
economic violence to the possible end of life itself. Encouraging women in 
these situations to come out no matter what the cost is akin to encouraging 
martyrdom for "the cause." On the other hand, placing the decision within a 
purely individual arena ignores the social dimension that influences both 
victimization and liberation. The "Spiral of Conversion" represents both the 
social and individual aspects of coming out and recognizes the decision as an 
ongoing process rather than one time event. 



116 



With the exception of Una, all the women articulated that the closet 
was not an empowering place to be. Carter Heyward describes the closet in 
the following way: 

A closet is a small place in which there's not much room to breath or 
move around. Not much light by which to see. Not much space for 
friends. A closet is a lonely, cramped place in which to hide. A place 
of disconnection and disembodiment in which because we are out of 
touch with one another we are out of touch with ourselves. ( 1989: 9) 

It is important to recognize the necessity for us to continually push at the 
boundaries of our closetedness and move toward a more embodied 
possibility for us all. It is also crucial to recognize the very real dangers to 
our physical and emotional well-being that forces with a stake in 
maintaining the status quo will render against any who threaten that 
structure. Out and embodied lesbians most certainly do pose such a threat. 
That reality should not constitute justification for us to remain in our closets, 
but it must serve as a reminder that to venture forth alone is a dangerous 
enterprise indeed. 



117 



IMPLICATIONS 

A Litany for Survival 1 

Audre Lorde 

For those of us who live at the shoreline 

standing upon the constant edges of decision 

crucial and alone 

for those of us who cannot indulge 

the passing dreams of choice 

who love in doorways coming and going 

in the hours between dawns 

looking inward and outward 

at once before and after 

seeking a now that can breed 

futures 

like bread in our children's mouths 

so their dreams will not reflect 

the death of ours; 

For those of us who were imprinted with fear 

like a faint line in the center of our foreheads 

learning to be afraid with our mother's milk 

for by this weapon 

this illusion of some safety to be found 

the heavy-footed hoped to silence us 

For all of us 

this instant and this triumph 

We were never meant to survive. 

And when the sun rises we are afraid 

it might not remain 

when the sun sets we are afraid 

it might not rise in the morning 

when our stomachs are full we are afraid 

of indigestion 

when our stomachs are empty we are afraid 

we may never eat again 

when we are loved we are afraid 

love will vanish 



1 Audre Lorde, The Black Unicorn (New York: Norton, 1978) p. 33. 



118 



when we are alone we are afraid 

love will never return 

and when we speak we are afraid 

our words will not be heard 

nor welcomed 

but when we are silent 

we are still afraid. 

So it is better to speak 

remembering 

we were never meant to survive. 



Of the myriad of emotions that filled me over the course of the 
weekend gathering, the most lingering was the recognition of the incredible 
power that was manifested in that circle of women: a power that is bridled 
in so much of the rest of our lives and which was unleashed in a rush of 
passion in that brief 24 hour respite. I walked away from the weekend 
feeling simultaneously invigorated by the creativity and integrity shared, 
and exhausted by the pain expressed and the volume of dissipated energy 
spent trying to make "home" in the church amidst subtle and/or blatant 
hostility. I left those women with an even clearer understanding of why 
open and proud lesbians are so very threatening to religious and social 
structures that rely on control as a means to sustain....why churches welcome 
us in the ranks of the clergy so long as we remain closeted. ...and why coming 
out into a full and pride-filled celebration of our power is such a profoundly 
risky, prophetic and faithful journey. 



Why open, pridefui lesbians are so threatening to the church. 

In her essay "Coming Out and Relational Empowerment" Carter 
Heyward makes the following observation: 



119 



The closet is the only acceptable place for lesbians and gaymen to live 
in this culture of gender and sexual alienation. For only insofar as we 
are closeted will the prevailing power relations be held in place. That's 
why most of the liberal protestant churches, for example, have decreed 
that openly gaymen and lesbians who are sexually active cannot be 
ordained. The issue is not simply sex, but rather the fundamental organi- 
zation of social, economic, and political power in heterosexist patriarchy. 
In this context, the closet serves as a masterful device of control ( 19899) 

Within the institutional church, the ordination of all women is still 
controversial in many denominations. In those churches that have "ordained 
women for years," it is still difficult for women to rise to positions of 
influence within the structure. In this regard, even heterosexual women are 
still marginalized in every protestant denomination that ordains women. 
Closeted lesbian women share this same status as they are presumed to be 
heterosexual unless their lesbian identity is exposed. This fact is one 
indication of the underlying misogyny that has shaped Christian theology 
and assumption. 

In her classic essay, "Misogyny and Homophobia: The Unexplored 
Connections " Beverly Harrison outlines how the anti-body, anti-nature, anti- 
sexual dualism that has shaped Christian theology and tradition lies at the 
heart of male dominance and control of women's lives. 

These dualisms are irreducibly related core theses in the ideology of 
control developed by the ruling male elites of a patriarchal social sys- 
tem to keep their power in place and women in theirs In fact, the 
anti-body dualism of the Christian culture is so tenacious precisely be- 
cause it sustains the other dualism— the male/female dualism— which 
in turn grounds male superiority and privilege (1985 138) 

Compulsory heterosexuality as an institution has served to keep 
women's sexuality under men s control: dictating that the only acceptable 
expression of erotic passion for women is within the confines of the 
heterosexual marriage union (traditionally for procreative purposes only.) 
But as Harrison so eloquently expresses, all women represent the underclass 



120 



of dualistic assumption. As long as women accept that posture, Harrison 
states that "hostility toward us expresses itself only in gentler forms." (By 
"gentler forms" she is referring to tokenization, trivialization, etc.) But when 
women refuse to accept that posture by exhibiting signs of independence 
and self assertiveness, the "rage toward women" that exists just beneath the 
surface is exposed in the form of physical violence and overt hostility. 
Because open lesbians culturally represent the extreme rejection of 
traditionally prescribed roles for women, we are particularly threatening to 
patriarchal assumption and must be silenced, broken or trivialized in order 
for the power structures to remain intact. Lesbian clergy are especially 
threatening to the religious structures because as clergy we also represent 
what is recognized as sacred. For churches to fully support the ordination of 
lesbians in more than token fashion would challenge foundational 
assumptions of what has constituted the sacred throughout Christian history. 

Coining out as a prophetic faith stance. 

The normative gaze is the tool that offers what Audre Lorde called the 
"illusion of some safety to be found." Due to heterosexism, closeted lesbians 
are assumed to be heterosexual and therefore have the option of "passing" 
by remaining silent or by intentionally feigning heterosexuality. But as 
Lorde states, as marginalized individuals we bv definition "were never 
meant to survive." No matter how far we climb up the ladders of 
patriarchally defined success, we will at best reach token status at the cost of 
a broken spirit. The more marginalized one's identity, the greater the odds 
against obtaining even such bogus distinction. The normative gaze is a 
powerful and constant lure for us all. Chosing to enter into the journey 



121 



toward a more embodied existence is itself a courageous undertaking which 
signals a radical faith posture. 

In the same essay quoted above, Carter Heyward speaks of coming out 
as a 'process of relational empowerment." 

To come out, then, is not merely a step in personal authenticity. It is 
a step also into a posture of social and political deviance and resistance. 
In both senses, as movement in authenticity and as an act of political 
dissidence, coming out can become a remarkable process of relational 
empowerment. It can reflect a direction of growth in which the lesbian 
is seeking more, not less, authentic connection with friends and loved 
ones and, in so doing, is signaling an investment (however small or un- 
aware) in helping to shape unalienated— mutual, honest— power relations 
in society. (1989: 9-10) 

By entering into the process of coming out, lesbian clergy engage in the 
creative task of redefining the sacred by mending the brokenness caused by 
the anti-body dualism that has historically characterized images of the 
divine. By coming out we boldly proclaim the sacred "no" to dismembered 
interpretations of the holy, and reclaim the power of our erotic sensuality as 
the source of wisdom and window to grace. 

Openly lesbian women are dangerous to heterosexist patriarchy because, 
whether or not it is our intention, our visibility signals an erotic energy 
that has gotten out of control— out of men's control Historically, we have 
learned that this erotic power is not good— for us. for others, for the 
world, or for God. Operating on the basis of an interpretive principle of 
suspicion in relation to heterosexist patriarchal religious and social 
teachings, feminist liberation theologians in Christianity and Judaism 
have begun to suspect that our erotic power— this object of such massive 
fear among ruling class men from generation to generation— is, in fact, 
our most creative, liberating power That is to say our sacred power; that 
which many of us call our God or Goddess And she is indeed dangerous 
to a culture of alienation and abuse because she signals a better way She 
sparks our vision, stirs our imagination, and evokes our yearning for 
liberation (Heyward 198911) 

As lesbian clergy continue to come out.. ..as we support one another in 
the shedding of the normative gaze by moving step by step into a more 
embodied representation of our sacred selves. ...we may possibly leave the 



122 



church as we know it behind: not so much as a dramatic exodus, but more 
out of the steady transformation that the process itself engenders. As in all 
liberation movements, the line between remaining within the structure and 
stepping beyond it is evasively fluid. Lesbian clergy embody a prophetic 
voice that offers new vitality to communities of faith. May the people of God 
be bold enough to join in the sojourn and embody the promise. 



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APPENDIX A: DENOMINATIONAL STATEMENTS REGARDING THE 
ORDINATION OF LESBIANS AND GAY MEN 

The following is a sampling of denominational statements that have 
been compiled from various sources. This list is not exhaustive of all 
protestant denominations, but is representative of various positions. 

CHRISTIAN CHURCH (DISCIPLES OF CHRIST): General Assembly Study 
Document, 1977. 

The standards of membership in the Christian Church (Disciples of 

Christ) have always rested on confession of faith in Jesus Christ and baptism. 
Its standards have been "inclusive" rather than "exclusive.'' In support of 
these it has appealed to the relationships of Jesus which were inclusive, 
often, in fact, deliberately directed to those whom society had demeaned and 
cast aside. It has never acknowledged barriers to fellowhip on the basis of 
dogma or lifestyle. By these principles, rooted in biblical faith, it is difficult 
to point to any basis upon which homosexual persons might be excluded 
from membership. 

Acknowledging...the wide differences of opinion, there does seem to be 
a minimal consensus to which the church can strive: homosexuals are 
persons whom God created, loves and redeems and seeks to set within the 
fellowship of faith communities to be ministered to and to minister. The 
church can affirm that Gods grace does not exclude persons of differing 
lifestyles or sexual preferences, nor does the church which is enlightened by 
the Holy Spirit. Homosexuals may be included in the fellowship and 
membership of the community of faith where they are to love and be loved 
and where their gifts of ministry are to be welcomed. 

EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH OF AMERICA 

Due to the recent merger of the American Lutheran Church and the 
Lutheran Church in America, (1/88) the newly formed Evangelical Lutheran 
Church of America has not officially issued a new statement. Bishop Herbert 
W. Chilstrom indicated that both parent churches recognized homosexual 
behavior rather than orientation as sinful. He stated that "Those (pastors) 



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who are gay or lesbian in their sexual orientation, whether acknowledged or 
kept confidential, will be expected to be celibate. M1 The following are the 
former statements of the now merged Lutheran denominations: 

The American Lutheran Church : Standing Committee for the 
Office of Research and Analysis, 1 977. 

The church need not be caught up in the conflicting theories as to how 
widespread homosexuality is, the factors which cause or foster 
homosexuality, and whether it is an illness, an arrested state of sexual 
development, a form of deviant behavior, or a sexual expression of human 
nature. These are matters for the various scientific disciplines to debate and 
resolve. The church, however, is concerned that some human beings created 
in Gods image are involved in homosexual behavior, that many people are 
hurting because of their own homosexuality or that of a loved one, and that 
the Scriptures speak to the entire issue. 

We believe that taken as a whole the message of Scripture clearly is 
that: 

a. Homosexual behavior is sin, a form of idolatry, a breaking of the 
natural order that unites members of the human community; 

b. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the new life in Christ, a denial 
of the responsible freedom and service into which we are called 
through baptism; 

c. God offers the homosexual person, as every other person, a vision of 
the wholeness He intends, the assurance of His grace, and His healing 
and restoration for the hurting and broken. 

Nevertheless, we recognize the cries of our homosexual brothers and 
sisters for justice in the arena of civil affairs. We cannot endorse their call 
for legalizing homosexual marriage. Nor can we endorse their conviction that 
homosexual behavior is simply another form of acceptable expression of 
natural erotic or libidinous drives. We can, however, endorse their position 
that their sexual orientation in and of itself should not be a cause for 
denying them their civil liberties. 

Lutheran Church in America: Biennial Convention. 1970. 
Human sexuality is a gift of God for the expression of love and the 
generation of life. As with every good gift, it is subject to abuses which 



1 "Christianity Today' 32:40, April 22. 1988 



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cause suffering and debasement. In the expression of man's sexuality, it is 
the integrity of his relationships which determines the meaning of his 
actions. Man does not merely have sexual relations; he demonstrates his 
true humanity in personal relationships, the most intimate of which are 
sexual. 

Scientific research has not been able to provide conclusive evidence 
regarding the causes of homosexuality. Nevertheless, homosexuality is 
viewed biblically as a departure from the heterosexual structure of God's 
creation. Persons who engage in homosexual behavior are sinners only as 
are all other persons— alienated from God and neighbor. However, they are 
often the special and undeserving victims of prejudice and discrimination in 
law, law enforcement, cultural mores, and congregational life. In relation to 
this area of concern, the sexual behavior of freely consenting adults in 
private is not an appropriate subject for legislation or police action. It is 
essential to see such persons as entitled to understanding justice in church 
and community. 



PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (U.S.A.): General Assembly, 1984 

Similar to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the 
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is the product of a merger in 1983 of the United 
Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. and the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. The 
following statement was issued by the 188th General Assembly of the United 
Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 
reaffirmed its previous policy banning the ordination of homosexuals in its 
first assembly following the merger in 1984. 

the New Testament declares that all homosexual practice is 

incompatible with Christian faith and life. For the church to ordain a self- 
affirming practicing homosexual person to ministry would be to act in 
contradiction to its charter and calling in Scripture, setting in motion both 
within the church and in society serious contradictions to the will of Christ. 

PROTESTANT EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN THE U.S.A: General Convention, 
1979. 

The following information is quoted from an article in "Christianity 



Today." 



126 



"The debate was for and against the ordination of avowed, practicing 

homosexuals In the end, the church's two-chamber legislature rejected 

homosexual ordination. Its House of Bishops and House of Deputies (clergy 
and lay delegates) approved a resolution stating, in part, it is not 
appropriate for this Chruch to ordain a practicing homosexual.' The 
resolution was in the form of a recommendation, not mandatory legislation. "' 

SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION: Resolution on Homosexuality, 1976. 

Whereas, homosexuality has become an open lifestyle for increasing 
numbers of persons, and 

Whereas, attention has focused on the religious and moral dimensions 
of homosexuality, and 

Whereas, it is the task of the Christian community to bring all moral 
questions and issues into the light of biblical truth; 

Now therefore, be it resolved that the members of the Southern 
Baptist Convention.. .affirm our commitment to the biblical truth regarding 
the practice of homosexuality and sin. 

Be it further resolved, that this convention, while acknowledging the 
autonomy of the local church to ordain ministers, urges churches and 
agencies not to afford the practice of homosexuality any degree of approval 
through ordination, employment, or other designations of normal lifestyle. 

Be it further resolved, that we affirm our Christian concern that all 
persons be saved from the penalty and power of sin through our Lord Jesus 
Christ, whatever their present individual lifestyle. 

UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST ASSOCIATION OF CHURCHES IN NORTH 
AMERICA: General Assembly, 1970. 

Discrimination Against Homosexuals and Bisexuals: Recognizing that 

1. A significant minority in this country are either homosexual or 
bisexual in their feelings and/or behavior; 

2. Homosexuality has been the target of severe discrimination by 
society and in particular by the police and other arms of government; 

3. A growing number of authorities on the subject now see 
homosexuality as an inevitable sociological phenomenon and not as a 
mental illness; 



1 "Christianity Today" 2338, October, 1979 



127 



4. There are Unitarian Universalists, clergy and laity, who are 
homosexuals and bisexuals; 

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED: That the 1970 General Assembly of the 
Unitarian Universalist Association: 1 ) Urges all people immediately to bring 
an end to all discrimination against homosexuals, homosexuality, bisexuals, 
and bisexuality. 

UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: Council on Church and Ministry, 1973. 

In the insistance of considering a stated homosexuals candidacy for 
ordination, the issue should not be his or her homosexuality as such, but 
rather, the candidate's total view of human sexuality and his or her 
understanding of the morality of its expression. 



UNITED METHODIST CHURCH: General Conference, 1984 

We do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this 

practice incompatible with Christian teaching Since the practice of 

homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed 
practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as 
ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church. 



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APPENDIX B: SHORT DESCRIPTION OF PARTICIPANTS 

The following is a short description of the participants listed in 
alphabetical order for quick reference. 

AMY: A white, Midwestern seminarian in her early twenties. She is seeking 
ordination in a denomination within the Presbyterian category. Amy has 
decided to enter the ordination process as an out lesbian, even though hers is 
a closed denomination. Formative experiences include: growing up in an Air 
Force family, an attempted suicide related to her fears about being a lesbian, 
traveling to Mexico and Nicaragua, coming out, and being involved in the 
movement which protested the brutal murder of a local gay man. 

CHERYL: A Black psychologist who co-facilitated the gathering. 

JENNIFER: A white clergywoman in her early thirties who is ordained in a 
denomination in the Episcopacy category. Her denomination is closed, and 
Jennifer has chosen to remain primarily closeted to maintain her ordination 
status and position in the church. She has served in parish and hospital 
ministries and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in the Northeast. Formative 
experiences include: growing up poor in a farm family with a chronically 
depressed mother, the church, academic religion, discovering lesbian 
community in seminary, pursuing ordination instead of academic teaching, 
experiences in parish ministry, and her decision to return to school for her 
Ph.D. 

KATE: A white clergywoman in her mid-forties who is ordained in a 
denomination in the Presbyterian category. She is a parish pastor in the 
Northeast and has chosen to remain primarily closeted in her closed 
denomination to maintain her ordination status and ministerial standing. 
Formative experiences include: growing up in the Midwest with an 
"ordinary * childhood, " loving " the church, falling in love with a younger 
woman in the congregation where she served as youth director, being 
"discovered" by the young woman's parents, experiencing a women's 
community in seminary, and being forced to withdraw her name from 
consideration of denominational leadership positions because the mother of 
her first lover exposed Kate s lesbianism to denominational officials years 
later. 

LAURIE: A white congregational clergywoman in her mid-thirties who is 
ordained in an open denomination and serves a parish in the Midwest. 
Laurie recently decided to come out to her congregation and after a long 



129 



ordeal, half of the community indicated that they wanted her to leave. She 
decided to resign. Other formative experiences include: growing up in an Air 
Force family, exploring Native American and Eastern spiritualities, and 
coming out in seminary. 

MARIA: A Latina ciergywoman in her early thirties who is ordained in a 
congregational denomination. Maria was ordained as an out lesbian in her 
open denomination and is serving a parish in the Northeast. Formative 
influences include: growing up in a Black ghetto, being a performer, the 
Catholic church, applying to the convent after high school and being told to 
reapply after college, coming out, deciding to attend seminary as a 
Protestant, and the recent death of both her parents. 

NANCY: A white congregational ciergywoman in her mid-forties who is 
serving as a campus minister. Nancy is ordained in an open denomination, 
but choses to remain primarily closeted to maintain her influence in the 
church. She recently came out as a lesbian to herself. Formative experiences 
include: growing up in a poor farm family in a small town, the church, a 
relatively unhappy marriage to a minister, raising two children, deciding to 
go to seminary, divorcing her husband and coming out as a lesbian. 

SARAH: A Black seminarian in her mid-thirties who is ordained in a 
denomination in the Presbyterian category. She is serving a parish in the 
Northeast and is an open lesbian in spite of her denomination s closed 
position. Formative experiences include: being abandoned in a garbage can 
as a baby, growing up in foster homes, learning to be street-wise as a 
number runner, drug dealer and child prostitute, being encouraged by a high 
school teacher, attending college, meeting strong Black women role models, 
coming out into all parts of her identity and deciding to attend seminary and 
pursue ordination. 

THERESA: A Mexican American Indian seminarian in her mid-forties who is 
pursuing ordination in a denomination in the Episcopacy category. Theresa 
is choosing to remain primarily closeted in her closed denomination. 
Formative influences include: her grandmother who was a Pueblo Indian, 
growing up as a Mexican American Indian in a white neighborhood and 
society, her experiences of incest and rape, a gay male friend who left the 
church because of the hypocrisy he experienced, and her decision to drop out 
of seminary for two years and then to return. 

UNA: A Black Hispanic ciergywoman in her early thirties who is ordained in 
a denomination in the Episcopacy category. She is serving a parish in the 
Northeast and chooses to remain primarily closeted to retain her ordination 



130 



in her closed denomination and to maintain her effectiveness within the 
Black and Hispanic community. Formative influences include: growing up in 
a Jamaican, West Indian and Caribbean community, moving to a white, 
Jewish suburb and experiencing racism for the first time, her personal faith 
relationship with God, coming out to herself at age 18 and pursuing 
ordination. 



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APPENDIX C: EDITED TRANSCRIPTS OF DISCUSSIONS 

SUMMARY OF QUESTION # 1: Coming out: What do you lose and 
what do you gain? 

Kate began by sharing that her primary dilemma regarding coming 

out has to do with telling her parents. 

I've not talked to my parents. I've talked to my sister who has been 
saddened by this ever since ...two years ago And the first thing that 
came out of her mouth was. "Don't tell Mom and Dad." That's also the 
first thing that came out of my brother's mouth "Don't tell Mom and 
Dad." Everytime I think about being more public about coming out. it 
very quickly gets pushed back to. "Well, what will that do to Mom and 
Dad?" 

Kate illustrated the power of this dilemma by sharing a recent dream: 

I had a dream that there were two big elephants in the yard dying 
And I knew that they were dying and I knew that they would die, so 
it didn't surprise me to see them dying. But I knew that I had to run 
past these elephants to go out ...there was a whole group of people 
playing Softball. I wasn t aware that it was just women, it could have 
been This was at our farm where I have not lived for a number of 
years and my parents don t live there anymore either But it didn t 
take too much imagination to see who these elephants were there, 
dying, between me and going out to play to do what I wanted to do 

Jennifer identified with Kate's concern and articulated that coming out 
to her parents would result in the loss of those relationships. 

I am closer to doing that then I have been before, but it's also dear 
to me that one of the things that will enable me to do it is to be prepared 
to give those relationships up. It's pretty dear. Maybe not my Mom, 
but my Dad. 

Kate responded by sharing that she wasn't so much afraid of "losing " 
her parents as she was concerned about "protecting them. " "I think of them 
in (their small midwestern town) who are they going to talk to?" 

Jennifer then stated that she used to believe she could do her ministry 
and be "an advocate'' without coming out to her parents. 



132 



But then I've come to understand that I can't really do a lot of the things 
I might like to do because I don't want them to read it in the newspaper. 
I don't think that's fair to them. So, I think that until I make some peace 
about that with my family, it really constricts my ministry and my ability 
to witness as a lesbian ...however that might take shape. 

Laurie shared that she came out to her family five years ago just 
before she and her lover decided to live together. "We didn't want to deal 
with all the closetedness around that." She went on to say that her family's 
response has helped enable to her to continue to come out in other areas of 
her life. 

One of the reasons why I have been able to continue to come out is not only 
because I came out to them. ..but because of their response. Through their 
incredible pain (they were able to affirm) 100% ...."We love you. .You re 

our daughter We're here. We re not going away ...Let s work through 

this.'' I didn't anticipate that response. I thought I would lose them So 
I gained them in a much deeper way, but that also has enabled me to do all 
the different steps up until coming out at church. ...and coming out at church. 

Kate asked Laurie how she deals with her parents pain and what she does 
with her own guilt around "causing" that pain. Laurie responded by saying 
that she had done a lot of work in therapy around "letting go of their stuff." 
When they were in pain. Laurie encouraged them to talk with someone other 
than her about their fears. "I was present to them, but I'm not their parent. 
Their my parents. And I needed to get clear with that." 

Nancy added that "It doesnt get any easier telling your kids." She 
alluded to difficulties with her daughter who "is not in the space that she can 
deal with any more than she's dealt with up to this point." Nancy trusts that 
the silence will eventually get broken, but admited that "it's hard to live in 
that suspension." 

Amy spoke of the necessity for patience. ...both with families and the 
church. 

It takes time ..It's been three years for my family My mother has been 



133 



wonderful and my father is slowly coming along And the same is true for 
the church .. ..the process can be real volatile, but I guess I always believe 
that there is some good that will come out of it. 

Maria shared that her parents found out about her lesbianism 
through an annonymous letter. Her father thought it was "hate mail" and 
chose not to deal with it. Maria thinks this is because he "could not 
understand this. There is no word, no concept of lesbian women in Latin 
culture." Maria wasn't very close to her father so she didn't feel compelled 
to challenge his denial. 

But my mother was another story. I felt like I was living a lie. I was 
living under her roof and she knew of this (through the letter) and 
I wasn t saying anything. So I took her out to dinner one night and 
told her about this relationship I was having with this woman. 

Her mother said that she was "worried" for Maria and that she didn't want 
her to "make a decision now for the rest of her life." After that conversation, 
they didn't speak about Maria s lesbianism for over a year and a half. 
Following their mother's recent death, Maria s sister told her that "Mommy 
always believed you would marry a Latin man." 

Maria also shared that an important gain for her in coming out was 
the discovery of a new community. "I have wholeness in being a lesbian as I 
never had in any other way in my life." 

Sarah also spoke about "wholeness" and how her experience of coming 
out was an ongoing process that related to all parts of her identity. 

Before I even got to understanding that I was a lesbian, I had a lot of 
coming out to do First, I had to psychologically come out of this feeling 
of being trash that I wasn't just garbage I felt like I didn't have any- 
thing to lose because I didn't have anything Then I had to come out, 
in essence, in the Black community when I decided that I would no longer 
bleach my skin to be high yellow or straighten my hair I realized that no 
matter how certain Black people felt about skin color or hair texture, to 
white people we were all niggers It didn't matter whether I was degreed 
or non-degreed. I was still a nigger I saw that when I was almost 
attacked here many years ago in a white suburb I couldn't say to them, you 



134 



know, Tm a college student! I'm not the niggers you're talking about in 
the ghetto! I'm not being bussed!'' I couldn't hold a placard up and say, 
"See, I'm not a nigger." I had to come out into my Blackness in many ways. 

Sarah spoke of the myriad of ways she had to come out of internalized 
feelings of hatred and worthlessness into a more prideful experience of the 
many facets of her identity. "By the time I got to realizing that I was a 
lesbian, (by coming out) I still didn't feel that I had lost anything." She 
repeatedly emphasized the fact that her ability to risk coming out was 
enhanced by the stark realities of her daily existence. 

I've tasted poverty, alienation and certainly unemployment and welfare 
most of my life. ...so it doesn't scare me. I felt like I've had my Mount Nebo 
experience. I done crossed over to the other side! So it's almost like Fanny 
Lou Hamer ...when they beat her (until she was) unconscious She had that 
Mount Nebo experience! And I really feel that. They can t touch me now 

Laurie shared a similar insight by stating that "coming out has been 
worth every bit of the pain." 

I don t look over my shoulder anymore and wonder if somebody s going to 
figure it out and question me That's completely gone For the first time 
in. I can't remember how long I don t carry that in my soul anymore 
And the pain has been just the worst pain I've ever experienced in my 
life, and still it was worth it It was worth it For that sense of real clarity 
and clean (holds chest) here 

Kate asked Laurie if that were true even if you never have another job in 
ministry again?" Laurie responded with a firm "Absolutely." but admitted 
that she would go through a lot of grieving and loss if that were to happen. 
Sarah added that it is important to remember that ministry takes many 

forms, inside and outside of the church. "It means you find alternatives 

alternative ways to ministry." 

Amy spoke of the issue as a question of integrity. She said she has 
recently decided that she needs to go through the process of ordination as an 



135 



out lesbian, and is uncertain whether she will even be accepted in the first 
stage of that process as a result. 

Maria shared her own experience of being out through the ordination 
process and her belief that authenticity is a crucial point of integrity for her. 

When I applied to seminary, I applied out. on all my applications and 
I said to myself, "Weil, if they don't want me, with the gifts that I come 
with, then they're not going to get my gifts. " And if the church doesn't 
want me with the gifts that I come with, then someone else is going to 
get my gifts. The Catholic church didn't want my gifts, and I said Fine. 
I don't need to fight in your world.'' I feel like I have enough fights in 
my life, enough struggles, enough places where I have to sit in there. 
And if you're going to say "I don t want you." then I'll take my gifts and 
I'll go someplace else. I nave a lot to offer. I have a lot of love and a 
lot of challenge, and that's my integrity. That's my faith experience 
And my being a lesbian and my being a faithful woman are intricately 
connected with one another. I cannot split myself and say, I'm a woman 
of faith over here and I'm a lesbian over here. " 

She then went on to state her anger at women who can make that split. " 
She spoke about her frustration with women who are closeted and who reap 
the benefits that those of us who are willing to be on the line have while 
maintaining your safety in the closets." Maria said she is much less angry 
than she used to be, but still experiences frustration about different choices 
regarding disclosure. "If we came out and showed our gifts, the church 
would be so overwhelmed at how many of us there were that they would 
have no choice but to say that these are people of God." 

I spoke about how in an alienated and fragmented society such as 
ours, compartmentalization is a given and that coming out is a constant 
process of mending that brokenness. In that regard, coming out includes but 
is not restricted to public disclosure. "I've been out for over twelve years. 

but I'm still coming out of the basic assumptions I've learned that various 

aspects of my identity are fragmented." I went on to share that, for me, the 
process of coming out is both frightening and exciting. 



136 



Moving toward being more integrated, less compartmentalized, 
changes everything about me. It changes basic assumptions about 
how I move and live in the world. There s something very exciting 
about that ...because it allows me to envision new possibilities where 
I thought there were none. But it's also a feeling of stepping off 
into an abyss. ...which is very frightening. I think that's where 
faith enters in. ...faith that it's not really an abyss at all, but a way of 
being that offers greater promise of deeper joy and fulfillment. 

Kate shared her fear that if she comes out more publicly, she'll enter 
into a whole new realm of compartmentalization that others will impose on 
her rather than her imposing it on herself. 

If I were more out ..what sort of work is available? I mean, how many 
of us can work in gay congregations 7 I don't know if I want to be in 
a congregation with just gay folks And if I were to make a more public 
statement, I simply would be out of the church So there can be an 
increased compartmentalization in terms of being more open too 

Nancy articulated the same tension in relation to the church itself. 

I think some of it has to do with how much territory are we going to 
cede to other people If I come out and I get removed for whatever 
reasons I'm ceding a whole area to someone else Do I simply cede 
the church and say To hell with it. ..I've got other things to do ." or 
do I stay in it as long as I can stay in it... pushing not just my boun- 
daries but their boundaries too? I guess it's a question of How long 
can you stand it? How much can you take 7 '' And when it gets to the 
point of self destruction in significant, essential ways you say, I ve 
paid my dues this is it. I'm outta here" And it's a different point 
for everyone 

Laurie added that as lesbians we also seed the church. "There's a way 
in which seeds are planted with my experience. I think there is pain being 
in the closet and there's pain being out.'' 

Kate insisted that "there are different kinds of integrity too.'' She 
spoke about one of her student interns who is lesbian and how she really 
"pushed" Kate around issues of coming out. "She was much more open than I 
was at the time." But Kate raised the issue of conflicting integrities. 



137 



For her, part of her integrity was her sense of calling. ..She felt so 
strongly about being a parish pastor since she was about seven years 
old. Before she even thought she was a lesbian she felt called to be a 
parish pastor. I used to say, "What are you going to do with that piece? 
That's integrity. ..that's part of who you really are. Are you just going 
to throw it out the window?" I was asking myself, of course, more than 
I was asking her 

Maria interjected the following reflection on the importance of 
recognizing our joy as well as our pain. 

We talk a lot about pain here, the pain of being in. the pain of being out. 
The pain of choosing which one. I think it's more than just choosing our 
pain ...it s choosing our joy Where are we going to be able to have those 
places of just being free and unincumbered and how much of that do we 
have in the closet? 

(Cheryl announced that we had only five more minutes to wrap this 
section up and invited people to speak who hadn't yet shared.) 

Jennifer named her frustration that no matter what we choose in 
relation to coming out, the process is engrossing." 

Whatever our choices are. we devote our lives (in this regard anyway) 
to solving a problem that isn't ours to solve Because of our position in 
the culture, the only way we can deal with homophobia/heterosexism is 
to take individual responsibility for that in our lives But it's not our 
problem. We are divided among ourselves at different points and there s 

a lot of pain and hurt and defensiveness about this stuff and I think, 

Where did we get divided around this?" 

Theresa added that "Whether I'm in or out, I still have my God. That, 
for me, has been the important thing. (Just like) whether I get rejected as a 
Meiican American—it doesn't have anything to do with my relationship with 
God. She then went on to point out that the church hasn't always acted in 
the ways "God or Jesus had in mind." She posited the possibility that 
perhaps lesbians aren't supposed to try and stay within the system. "Maybe 
futuristically we're not supposed to stay in the church as it is now." 



138 



Una shared Jennifers recognition that we're consumed with 
addressing a problem that we didn't create. "This articulation comes from 
my experience as a Black, Hispanic woman. Issues around my race are not 
my issues! I am who God made me to be and others make some of this shit a 
problem! Then I internalize the problem." Una went on to say that the most 
important issues for her are "maintaining my faith relationship with God and 
being who I am." She added that she never felt "a burning need to be out" in 
order for her to be "who I am." She's hoping for a time when people can just 
"be who they are" and wonders "Whose question is it that we come out?" 

I'm grateful for people who are out out. and force folks to deal with 

issues that they wouldn't deal with otherwise for breaking open the 

boundaries and creating the space. I also recognize the specialness 
around people who are in ...totally in the closet because some (hetero- 
sexual) people are so limited with the weights ...they can t take the 
truth and be in relation to it all. But there s a desperate need for all of 
us to be in relationship to one another So ail the places along the 
spectrum have their losses and their gains. 

SUMMARY OF QUESTION »2 

Who Are My People? To Whom Am I Accountable? 

Earlier in the last conversation, Sarah offered the following reflections 
regarding accountabilities that several participants refered to in their own 
comments: 

I realized that as a people as Black people, we got all kinds of inter- 
nalized racism you know, hatred I mean it can be something as 
flimsy as whether you're Black Caribbean or Black Haitian Black 
Southern... just so many reasons why there are different factions 
Black folks not liking other Black folks So when I came out as a 
lesbian that s when I had to realize who I was really accountable 
to And that's when I had to understand about justice and I under- 
stood the term praxis Those who I am accountable for are those who 
are with me It's like when I used to be a runner When I get on that 
mark, and all those people who are on that mark with me that s who 
I am accountable for And all those who are not on that mark, then, 
you ain't ready for the revolution. So I am accountable to all those 
who are on that mark. And when we say, "Let's go!" then baby, let's 
go! And that means Black, white, you know ..class don t matter, race 



139 



don't matter, gender don't matter. It's not a particular group any- 
more. It just isn't. 

Cheryl helped lead us into the question of accountabilities by 
summarizing pieces of our last conversation and the connections between 
community and accountability. Nancy then began her reflections by 
speaking about the necessity for boundaries. 

I think the question "Who are my people?" is a question about where 
do we draw boundaries, but those boundaries can't be hard and fast. 
For me there are degrees of accountability rather than either/or 
accountabilities. Some relationships are very close and to those I 
feel highly accountable, and some that I have a different kind of 
relationship to so the accountability is different. Then there are 
people who are even farther into the twilight for whom I'm accountable 
because in some way my power, the power that I have, (whether it's 
economic privilege or whatever) affects those people that I'm not in 
a face to face relationship with but nevertheless I feel an accounta- 
bility to them even if I don t see them face to face And I'm not sure 
that there is anyplace way out there that I'm not accountable at all. 
It may be a total infinite regress of accountability, but I personally 
can't deal with saying either/or. 

Kate spoke about the difference between accountability to people who 
are close to her and accountabilities to people who are in positions of power 
over her. 

When I think about (coming out to) my parents. I think about 
emotional consequences But there are some people to whom I feel 
accountable in some way that have a certain kind of power over me 
because of the way things are structured I may not like that and I 
may think it's a bad way to structure the church, but the truth is 
that I'm accountable to the leaders of the church because I'm a 
(denominational affiliation) and continue to make that choice And 
if the denominational leadership knew (that I am a lesbian) I would 
be told that there is no call for me in the church I might say that's 
unfair and it's kind of a crummy way to run things, but I need to 
know that at least and not be so naive as to think that my accounta- 
bility with denominational officials is the same as my accountability 
to people in the congregation or to my parents 

Kate's comments prompted me to ask if "our people'' and those we feel 
accountable to are different or the same. Una responded by stating that "I 



140 



am always accountable to the folks who are my people." She went on to 
explain that "her people" are who she describes as "family." 

some of whom are biological relatives... some of whom are people 

who have come to be relatives in my relationship with them. And they 
are lots of different people. There are white people who are family to 
me. there are straight people who are family to me... The fact that 
there are these different constituency groups who are family to me 
makes me accountable to the groups that they identify with in some 
sort of way. And then there is the sense that because I consider my- 
self to be a child of God. that then, way out, I'm accountable to every 
thing and every being that God has created. But in a very different 
way than in the other spaces. 

Maria added that she agreed with everything that had been shared 
thus far, but would also include her call in her own understanding of 
personal accountabilities. 

When I was ordained I was charged to be a prophet And I was charged 
to be a prophet to all those who were oppressed And so I feel accoun- 
table to a ministry of prophetic word, and so the people encompass 
any and all who need to hear prophetic word, which can be comforting 
or challenging. 

Kate shifted the focus to addressing how differing accountabilities in 
her own life are "clashing and how she is struggling to negotiate the 
contradictions that are becoming ever more apparent. 



For a long time I lived with the sense. ..a little bit of what you were 
talking about before lunch, Una. that there wasn't really a need for 
me to deal with coming out. I tried to live in an authentic a way as 
possible in a lot of different places That seemed to work for awhile 
Nobody had ever said to me. "Are you a lesbian 7 " so I never felt that 
I had lied including the whole ordination process And there are 
all kinds of things going on in our congregation which are inclusive 
of gay and lesbian people in a very up front kind of way But a year 
ago there were three gay men who were very open about being gay 
and who were certified for ordination on the west coast And then 
gradually, the process went along and they were de-certified because 
they refused to say that they would be celibate I know two of them and 
on one level I feel like I'm not as clear anymore about what it means to 
be supportive of them to be in solidarity with them What it means 
that in their honesty about who they are. they have given up the 
chance to be ordained If I said the same thing, I wouldn't be ordained 



141 



either. So sometimes, it feels to me personally like I have chosen to 
remain more accountable to the leadership in the church than I am 
to these brothers. ..and there are a number of sisters, too, that I would 
add to that. 



Kate spoke about how living within those contradictions is becoming more 
and more difficult. 

Instead of my becoming more comfortable with that and living into 
that and saying, "Well, this is how the world is...." it's increasingly 
more difficult for me to live with the rules that I set up for myself 
even three years ago, or two years ago And it feels like more and 
more clashes of these centers of accountability ..they are increasingly 
banging up against each other. I don't know what to do with that. 

Cheryl asked how, in the midst of such contradiction, people are able 
to live with authenticity. Nancy responded by articulating that definitions 
regarding authenticity and integrity are themselves dynamic and changing. 

I think the question itself assumes a static situation when in fact 
we're not static people in either situation (work and personal lives.) 
So that what seems to be authentic or a position of integrity at one 
point in our journey is different later on. For me. I stopped beating 
myself about some decisions of the past They were appropriate or 
they were the best I could do at that point, now it's time for me to 
make some different ones I think we need to take into account that 
we do grow the situation changes so that accountability does shift. 
I don't think we're going to get a definitive answer There s no one 
place of security that we can stand and say. "Okay now I've gotten 
my integrity together and let s go!" 

Amy referred back to the question of whether her people and her 
accountabilities were different or the same. 

I see a difference between those two questions I feel accountable 
to all of God's creation and its not just a matter of who but what For 
me it's not just limited to people It's limited to the resources we have 
in this universe .... 

I spoke about how I try to make sense of a more encompassing 
understanding of accountability and my own necessity to focus my relational 
and vocational commitments. 



142 



In one way I feel accountable to the larger picture, but I think the way 
to affect that with any integrity is to live within a smaller sphere with 
smaller accountabilities. The slogan, "Think globally, act locally." comes 
to mind. 



I went on to share that although I have been out as a lesbian for over twelve 
years, I've only recently started to address heterosexism as a structural 
injustice. Until two or three years ago, I concentrated my advocacy and 
political energies on anti-racism, class elitism and more generally defined 
issues related to feminism. "It's not as though these issues are unrelated to 
me, but a significant piece was missing. I do feel accountable to the larger 
picture, but how can I be accountable there with integrity if I'm not even 
addressing my closest concern?" In that regard, I named lesbians as an 
important community of accountability for me. 

Your earlier reference, Sarah, about who is on the mark with 
you also really struck home. I don t feel at home with all lesbians 
Accountability, to me, means relying on people to help me push 
at my growing edges ..and for me to help push at theirs. It's a 
dynamic, growing process, but it requires a willingness to be 
engaged in the journey I guess that's how I would define who 
stands at "the mark." Those who are eager and/or willing to push 
at those edges. And not all lesbians are on that mark. 

Sarah stated that her first accountability is to herself. "I understand 

that I can't be everything for everybody and then I can tell people in a 

nice way that I'm not Jesus. I'm not about to be crucified on any cross come 
Calvary day." She then went on to talk about how marginalized people are 
all interrelated in a fundamental way. 

There's a wonderful saying by John Dunn who said that every man s 
death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind (Excuse the 
exclusive language, but that s the quote 1 ) That to me says that our 
lives are interconnected, and that we cant afford to be polarized as 
a people who are in struggle So I'm accountable to those people who 
want to live a much fuller life We're accountable to each other 



143 



Kate returned to her dilemma regarding conflicting accountabilities 
and her own journey through the mire. 

The reality is that I'm always being told, "The church into which you are 
called and which you have promised in some fashion to be accountable 
says that you should not be here." That's about me and a lot of other 
folks too. It gets back to what you were saying before, Nancy. Do I then 
cede the territory to someone else by saying that I am really more accoun- 
table to the people who have been open about being gay and lesbian than 
I am to this church which has kicked them out? And which would kick me 
out if I were more open than I am? 

Kate went on to state that she sometimes thinks she s fooling " herself: 

I have a lot of good days when I think that the kinds of things were 
saying in the congregation is really important and that it's important 
that someone be there to say them. But then there are other days when 
I think that's a bunch of baloney and I'm only fooling myself On those 
days I wonder if I'm being more transformed by staying in this operation 
than I am transforming anybody Those clashes seem much more real 
to me. year by year day by day 

Laurie spoke about how the polity of her church is different from 
Kate's denomination in that the national church has issued a statement in 
support of gay/lesbian ordination but the power lies in the local 
congregations to determine "fitness'' for ministry. I have no intention of 
leaving the (denomination) even though my church has done this.'' She went 
on to state how discerning accountabilities in the context of her parish 
experience over the past six months has been difficult. 

There is half the congregation who have said "yes'' to me. and half 
who have said no " And there are a lot of people on both sides that I 
really love a lot And most of those people aren t my people and yet, 
I have connections with those people... real strong connections I 
have had a very potent ministry with them over the past two and a 
half years ..and so I feel like in some ways (even though I'm not 
clear about it because of what's happened to me) I am accountable 
to them Is that about accountability or is that about love and what 
is the connection between those two things 7 

Maria asked if accountability was the same as responsibility, and Kate 
added the question of where obedience fits into all this. 



144 



Several of us int his room pledged when we were ordained that we 
believed the Apostles Creed. Sarah was saying that she doesn't think 
very many of us in this room frankly believe the Apostle's Creed. I 
think there are a lot of things that we've said we would obey, and (in 
that regard) maybe accountability has another kind of meaning If 

we want to change things that are there, we don't leave so we're 

accountable even in away, of disruption. 

Laurie added that her white, heterosexual, male colleague and she call 
those cross your finger pledges." Maria stated that in her ordination she 
had to pledge belief in the authority of the Bible. 

The Bible has some authority for me, I'm accountable to that to a 
degree But I'm also accountable to a feminist critical hermeneutic of 
the Bible not just to the book For me that means I have a respon- 
sibility to never shut myself off from the possibility of more truth 
breaking forth And that as soon as I close myself off to the possibility 
that God is still working within me and within the people around me.. 
then I have said that God no longer has any power And God is no 
longer in this world. 

Maria went on to say that her belief in a feminist critical hermeneutic of the 
Bible informs her accountabilities. 

So my accountability is to continue to be teaching and reinterpreting 
and studying the Gospel and what that means for me And that is my 
primary accountability... as opposed to any individual person or group 
of people I seek accountability to myself and to scripture those things 
in dialogue And the church comes next after that. In terms of degrees 
of accountability, the church is not number one because the church is 
made up of human beings. ..and that's not my first oath of loyalty if I'm 
going to be honest with myself 

Maria shared her frustration with the Hispanic caucus of her denomination 
and how she feels as though she stands with them as a Latina but they don t 
stand with her as a lesbian feminist. 

Most of them are not going to stand with me on that line. So I have to 
be accountable to the call of the Gospel in that place. And not to the 
individual people, or the group. So my accountability in that place is 
to say to them, "You're not standing in solidarity with me so how can 
you ask me to stand in solidarity with you? We have to be in this to- 
gether or we're not being faithful people." 



145 



Una observed that she felt people were talking more about w hat it 
means to be accountable and about how people become our people rather 
speaking out of concrete human experience. 

For me, where all of this discussion begins is with my self identity, and 
being attuned to that. And that how I am defined throughout my life or 
at various points in my life determines who my people are This culture 
never afforded me the opportunity of glossing over who I was. I think 
that there's a way, as white people, that you re allowed to gloss over who 
you are. And that impacts who you're accountable to It certainly does 
for me, and I'm real clear about that. And the reason why the people 
that I am most accountable to are so diverse is because I was born no 
one particular thing. My mother is Puerto Rican and my father is 
Jamaican. And growing up trying to be Black or Hispanic or whoever 
I am. ...each of those communities doesn t want to really acknowledge me 
So I have to be pluralistic in order to authentically be myself. 

I stated that I found Una s naming of the necessity to begin with self 
identity an important key to my own understanding of what it means to be a 
white woman in a white racist culture. 

It's a hellish thing for a "liberal" white person to say. My people are 
white " I want to say. My people are in Central America and my 
people are Black people and my people are everybody that I'm not be- 
cause I don't want to be one of "those'' people! I don t want to be a white 
person because I don t want to be racist But that's what it means to be 
white in a racist culture I'm a racist whether I "want to be or not The 
challenge is what am I going to do about it I think the first step is recog- 
nizing that my people are also defined by my privileges as much as by my 
marginalizations 

I went on to add that my sources of support won't necessarily come from 
my people " in the above distinction. 

I certainly don t rely on Christians in the institutional church, 
for example, for my sense of support And that s some of where 
my conflict lies I think we can t settle for the assumption that 
everything has to be a struggle in order to be credible We have 
to find places of home that are more part of our daily lives than 
places we retreat to every now and then to fuel up for the fight 

Theresa articulated that she assumes suffering to be a consequence of 
being a faithful person in an unjust world. 



146 



I changed the word accountability to representation. That's how 
I can better connect with it. ..."Who do I represent?" And that's 
God or Jesus as the human. I've always got to represent God and 
in doing that I'm going to sacrifice. I didn't really choose to sac- 
rifice, but just in holding to that I'm going to lose. ...I'm going to 

suffer I'm going to sacrifice I'm going to lose friends. That's 

not ail there is to life. ..just the painful times. But I just assume 
that in order to act like Jesus that's what I have to do ...is suffer. 

Theresa went on to state that she doesn't feel called to represent Hispanic 
people as a people, or lesbians or "any one part of myself.'' She feels 
accountable to the "God in me." 

I'm accountable, if I'm a Christian, to act like one To act like Jesus 
I mean, I don't think Gandhi felt accountable to anyone other than 
his own spirit Or King Even though King was an academic and 
grounded in academia as well I think King followed God's call And 
in that way was representing people and the oppressed and so forth 

Theresa likened the collective experience of faith to the metaphor of a relay 
race. 

I guess I'm just here for awhile and I'm going to run that race and 
I'm going to carry (the baton) here and hand it to somebody else. It 
may be a lesbian, it may be a straight woman, it may be a Hispanic 
person from Jamaica or it may be a Mexican from Mexico but I'm 
going to hand it to somebody and trust that God within them will 
move it along a little farther and trust that it keeps moving farther 
towards ending the race. There's no way I could feel accountable 
to our United States government, or to my boss, or to the church as 
a structure because that's not truth to me. It comes from within I 
trust that God within me to connect with others Its about the only 
thing I can trust. 

Jennifer said that the question sparked what she called a "fantasy 
dream" that has to do with starting a lesbian church. 

That's what I keep thinking about when I question "Who are my 
people?" I think about that in conversation with friends and in 
my own search for some grounding spiritually One of the things 
that I think has been most disabling about my struggle in the 
church is how it undermines my spiritual life 



147 



Jennifer stated that if accountabilities are formed out of a foundational sense 
of personal identity, then the notion of a lesbian church would represent 
aspects of herself that she holds most dear. 

I have this fantasy about getting my friends together and wed all 
have church together. It's the place where my sense of who my 
people are would get nurtured all in one place. I feel so split all the 
time. So this fantasy about worshiping with lesbians is that I would 
have this place to think about who I was all in one place at one time. 

SUMMARY OF QUESTIONS *3 and *4: What do you believe? What 
are the sources for your authority? and What are the new 
emergent paradigms for ministry? 

Nancy began by restating the question from What do I believe?" to 
What do I trust?" She said that she can talk about what she believes after 
she has identified what she trusts. 

Maria shared that she is experiencing a crisis of faith following the 
death of her parents. 

A couple of months ago, I walked into my senior pastors office and 
said to him, "I don't know what I believe. I don t think I believe any- 
thing anymore ." (Tapping her leg) he said, "You believe in this, don't 
you?'' I said, Yea. ..I believe in my body ' He said, Well, you believe in 
something ." And I thought, "Okay, I can start from there I can start 
with my body " 

Laurie said that until she learned through feminism that it was 
important to trust your experience, she wasn't sure what she believed in. 
Following high school, she did a lot of searching for about twelve years in 
Eastern religions, the arts and Native American spirituality. 

(Learning to trust my experience is) what finally brought me back 
to being able to say, "Okay, I am Christian and I need to grapple with 
that heritage even though there's a lot of things that I really struggle 
with ." But it was because I started to trust my experience that I was able 
to step back in and grapple with my heritage And only then. 



148 



Sarah shared that she believed "people need to be embodied and 
empowered." She went on to say that the Bible or church doctrine or even 
Christianity don't hold ultimate authority for her. 

The Bible is not a sacred text for me Christianity doesn't mean any 
more to me than Buddhism, Hari Krishna or whatever. Being in the 
church is a vehicle to empower people. 

Sarah continued by sharing that her authority comes from the people. She 
outlined what she understands to be new paradigms for ministry that are 
based in that belief. 

I start church on Sunday morning out of testimonies a devotional few 
minutes before the real service People talk about God. or whoever their 
deity is, how God or Jesus has sustained them on this day, or all through 
the week Then I ask for another testimony bearing witness to how they 
survived that week, and I encourage them to talk about their lives as holy 
and sacred That I find is my empowerment That's my authority It really 
comes from the people My sermon comes that morning when I walk into 
the church and it takes shape by the energy and interaction and lives 
of the people My authority really comes from these people hearing 
their pain and saying that their pain is real but that they can come out of 
it rise out of it 

Nancy then offered the following alliteration: "Our authority comes 
from pain, people, power, passion." 

Sarah agreed and recalled a saying by Carter Woodson that spoke of 
psychological rape. 

If you rape the psyche of somebody you don't have to tell them where 
to walk or when to go They 11 do it. So (ministry) is like freeing people s 
psyche and we're all victims of it Whether we re white, Black, whatever 
Because if we hold up the system, then we re acting out of being raped. 
We think we need to hold up the structure and we can t be flexible with 
it 

Laurie spoke of the importance of transformation. Unless 
transformation happens, there's something wrong with the authority." 
Sarah went on to share her fundamental difficulty with Jesus. 



149 



I have problems with Jesus for a lot of reasons. The way Jesus has been 
used in the Black church is one way that keeps us in bondage. But if 
Jesus works for you and it gets you to do right in society or if Buddha 
works for you, then my thing is solid. We can have church and we 
can have justice in society because it works for you and we're running 
the same race. Were just using different symbols and different lan- 
guage and it's alright 

Kate asked Sarah if her "bottom line" or what she fundamentally 
believed in was justice. Sarah said that it was, but that there has to be 
"right-relationship" before there can be justice. ...and that right-relationship 
has to begin with yourself. 

There are some steps to take before you can be in right relationship, 
and that's talking about. "Who are you 7 " "Where are you 7 '' "Where 
are you going 7 '" 

Theresa stated that she thought Sarah was fundamentally talking 
about the potential for change. 

No matter the pain or whatever, there s always the potential to come 
out of it. I know you don't like the Jesus story, but that's the whole thing 
about the cross! 

Theresa continued by sharing that "out of the scars of my own oppression I 
was a very violent person at one time." She spoke of how she lost her lover 
because she was emotionally abusive toward her. Filled with regret, 
Theresa spoke to her minister about what had happened. I let my past 
oppressions make me into an oppressor." Theresa wondered where there 
was any justice in such a scenario. Her minister told her that "There s justice 
if you change." 

That s always stuck with me That there s not justice in my being 
oppressed if I'm going to continue to be an oppressor There's no 
justice for my even having been oppressed. It's just like Jesus 
for me Where's the justice in his suffering if there's not Easter? 
The potential for change is a real salvation, a real saving. 



150 



Sarah stated that because of the way the cross has been used to justify 
suffering, that she thinks "we need to dismantle it." Theresa agreed that the 
understanding of the cross that teaches people to "suffer well" is ultimately 
evil and has also been used to keep Mexican American people in bondage. 
But Theresa believes in the power of the symbol and works to transform 
rather than dismantle it. 

Jennifer shared Theresa's belief in transforming rather than breaking 
symbols that have been used in such oppressive ways. 

I think if we re really going to work toward change with people 
with what I believe can be transformative in the church then part 
of what I'm doing is trying to take those symbols and reshape them 
And to do that from the perspective of what I believe and have ex- 
perienced. 

When asked to elaborate on what it is that she believes, Jennifer again spoke 
in relation to symbols. 

One thing is not to accept passive suffering Any symbol which puts 
us into a perpetually passive position is not inviting us into life I 
think that symbols need both to help confirm our self identity, or 
relationship with ourselves as well as clarify our relationships with 
others I think that symbols need to both connect us with our past 
or our heritage as well as open things up Scripture is a good example 
Scripture is about some connection with tradition but we always have 
to be willing to see what we never saw before 

Maria shared that she also believes in change and transformation but 
recognizes the power of the embedded assumptions that have so powerfully 
shaped the history of Christianity. 

I see the destruction of the Goddess I see where a dualistic gentile 
Christianity overcame a more wholistic Jewish Christianity .1 see 
Augustine with his sin I see the Inquisition and the burning of 
women who were powerful women. . I see Luther coming along and 
denying a sense of the wholeness one could have outside of married 
life. .1 see the destruction of the native peoples by the cross I see 
laissez faire capitalism .1 see apartheid. I see Reagan, and I wonder 
where is the hope? 



151 



Maria went on to share that she sees hope "in this circle....but our circle is not 
the circle that has ever won in history." After months of wrestling, Maria 
said that she finally could state firm belief in "the questions and the 
mystery." 

I believe in Palm Sunday and that Palm Sunday is about a moment 
of triumph. But in that triumph is tremendous risk... tremendous 
vulnerability. And I believe in Good Friday because I believe we 
live in Good Friday most of the time And I believe in Holy Saturday 
because Holy Saturday is that waiting place. ..that sort of I don't 
know" place. But I don t know what I believe about the resurrection 
I guess it's in little places. I have little resurrections. And I have 
little hopes But I'm not sure Ive got a big hope 

Theresa shared that last Easter she heard a Black South African Bishop 
speak about how how they are experiencing a long Good Friday " in South 
Africa. He said, "We believe Easter will come, but we do not know if it will 
come in our lifetime." 

Laurie interjected "That s why I depend so on the little hopes. " She 
went on to share a story about the youth group that she works with in her 
congregation. They supported Laurie throughout the whole ordeal and felt 
frustrated with their lack of power and influence in the church. They were 
worried that the important issues raised about heterosexism and 
homophobia would get dropped as soon as Laurie was gone. 

I told them that I wasn t the only lesbian in the church that 
there were families with lesbian and gay children and lesbian 
and gay brothers and sisters etc And then one of the young 
women in the group said, Some of us here in this room might 
be lesbian or gay " This was from a 16 year old! That's the resur- 
rection for me 

Theresa added, "There's the justice in your suffering. I'm not saying that it's 
good that (your suffering) happened, but there's the change, the impact." 



152 



Nancy shared her concern that she thought "we're looking for victory 
in a kind of cosmic sense. I think we need to settle for not being defeated. 
We have not been defeated and life still goes on." 

Una said that settling for not being defeated wasn't enough for her. "I 
want more than that." 

I don't believe in a hierarchical notion of the church or community 
or activism. Just because we have lost some of the gains made in the 
civil rights movement and with the women's movement doesen t mean 
that we're losing. ...or that the battle we fought wasn t good enough. 
So long as life goes on. we're in the process I don t believe its ever 
over ...ever done for us 

Una went on to share what she does believe in, beginning with her 
understanding of sin. 

I believe that there is what the church has traditionally called sin or 
or evil on an individual level and on a corporate level and the more 
unconscious we are about who we are and how we live, the more sin 
has power and control 

Una then shared about her belief in God and how that belief lies at the 
foundation of her understanding of authority and faith. 

I believe that there is a creator which various people have called God 
or Father or Mother or Goddess or whatever that is a power, a source 
that set all of this in motion And most importantly, that this power or 
source chose to be one of us. And that can be an example for me. It is 
most assuredly a way out. and a promise and a hope for all of us that 
there's Good Friday and Easter, promise, solid promise. And a promise 
that doesn t rely on me or any of us 

Una spoke of how she is not in control'' of either the beginning or the end of 
the process. She is able to trust the process because of her strong belief that 
God is "in control'' and is a being "who means well for us all which means life 
for us all." 

That s where my own sense of authority comes from, from this being 
who set everything in motion. My sense of power comes from in this 
world but not of this world because God chose to be what I am So re- 



153 



gardless of what people say or what I have to deal with in the church, 
I can always be assured of being 

Una said that when she is in her "Good Friday moods" she remembers that 
things will change. She bases that belief in God who "is a greater source of 
power than me and means for me to keep on living, and for me to be 
productive and to be fruitful as well as to experience the suffering which is 
transforming and offers opportunity for growth and learning." 

So my sense of authority comes from the love, the regard, the power 
that set my life in motion, that comes from God And I can stay in the 
church because the stuff that the church has messed around with in 
really bad ways has meaning It may not always be apparent from 
reading scripture or from reading church doctrine or from taking 
oaths in the church but it's hidden therein So I can stay. I can 
stay I must stay. And why I must stay in that place is because in a 
way it authenticates my power The truth that is there needs or meets 
the truth that is in me And my place in God's creation is to service 
the truth. And the church holds part of that truth sometimes Most 
of the truth other times. None of it on other occasions. 

Maria shared that she used to believe in much what Una articulated, 
but stated, "1 almost don t believe any of that for me, anymore. " She said 
that now she struggles in a different place and admitted that sometimes it's 
much harder for me to stay in the church because I don t have most of those 
places anymore to believe in. 

That's not my God. and that's not my Jesus and that's not my Christ. It's 
really hard, because I almost wish that I could believe in that again It 
would make my life simpler But I don't believe in the transcendent 
power of God I don't believe that Jesus was the God incarnate I believe 
that we all are God incarnate and not just this man Jesus 

Cheryl pushed Maria to clarify what it was that she did believe, and 
then there ensued a brief discussion involving the entire group about how 
difficult the question itself is. Una asked why people (participants) stay in 
the church at all and Nancy responded that she thinks that question moves 
us into the discussion about new paradigms. " Cheryl disagreed by stating 



154 



that "You have to have something to take with you in order to create a 
paradigm.'' In that regard, Cheryl encouraged everyone to continue to 
articulate what they believe in. Maria continued in that vein: 

I believe in the depth of mystery, and God in the void (as opposed to 
God in the light.) Many of the mystics talk about meeting God in the 
dark night of the soul. ..not on the mountaintop Maybe God's on the 
mountaintop too, and we once in awhile have transfiguration ex- 
periences. ..but most of the time that's not where God is Most of the 
time God is in the still small voice and not in the rushing wind 

Maria went on to share that the depth of mystery is so great that all our 
attempts at naming God are inadequate. But for Maria, aspects of the divine 
include "a sense of wholistic mind, body and spirit.. .that there isn t a 
difference between them. ...that God is me with all of you. She closed her 
remarks with the following reflection on why she stays in the church. 

I stay because I've been grabbed. Something has grabbed me and 
calls me forth to be in this conversation and to throw the questions 
out there so that other people can be in this conversation with me 
So that we can struggle together to find out what it means to be in 
right relationship with each other What it means to create justice 
What justice is! All of that keeps me here And maybe that s God 

»»»"M5 minute break ,,,,,,,,s 

Following the break, Cheryl and I recapped some of the previous 
discussion and encouraged people to think more about what they believe in 
while keeping the ideas of new paradigms in mind. 

Laurie shared that she and Kate were talking during the break and 
commenting on how difficult the discussion was. "Part of it is the topic itself, 
but part of it is that I don t want to talk about it. " She spoke of how in 
vulnerable times it is difficult for her to separate her faith and beliefs from 
what happened to her in her congregation. 

There's just been a lot of death and loss around letting go of a lot of 
beliefs I that I held so dear And some of them I didn t even know 



155 



I held dear 1 Like my beliefs about Jesus. They were so gut, that I 
didn't even realize how important they were even though intel- 
lectually, they don t make any sense to me at all 

Laurie shared that especially in the midst of experiencing such pain and 
suffering, she "is really working hard to not get sucked back into the old way 
of defining what suffering is." and asks, "Am I being more transformed than 
transforming? Or is that the mystery?" 

Amy stated that she cannot believe "in a justification of suffering...that 
there is redemption in that." She is certain that the "violence people 
experience, the violence Jesus experienced" is not "justified to be able to get 
to God." 

For me, the only thing that I can hold on to is those little bits of 
hope ..that are part of my experience and part of other people's 
experiences that they share with me. 

I spoke about my own journey after my ordination from defensively 
defining what I'm not (related to assumptions grounded in traditional 
theology) toward embodying more of who I am (lesbian, woman, feminist.) 

That shift made me more radical It was a much more powerful and 
creative place for me to move from, but it made me much more 
threatening to the institutional church My source of authority 
shifted from tradition to myself in relation to community But it's 
a constant struggle to keep moving from that creative space and 
to not continue to define myself in relation to the structures that 
try to tell me (and constantly do) that I am not a legitimate entity 
That s why I think this conversation is difficult for me It's much 
easier to talk about what I don't believe than to say how it is that I 
stay here creatively 

Kate spoke about how stating what you don t believe in comes from 
what she called a prior affirmation." She remembers that one of the first 
Bible verses she ever learned was the familiar passage: God so loved the 
world that He gave His only begotten son." 



156 



One day I woke up and said, "What sort of love is this? That God would 
give his only son ..." 

Kate went on to share a story that a friend of hers who is a Rabbi told about 
a Bible class she was leading. 

She was reading the Abraham and Isaac story in a circle of women once, 
and when she got to the part where Abraham was to take his knife and 
slay his son. the whole circle gasped 

Kate believed that the women responded that way out of a prior affirmation 
of the sacredness of life... and their belief that you protect life at all costs. 
You don't slay it." Kate believes that the no comes from a yes." 

Nancy spoke about how the yes is to the potential. It is not to 
something very definite or concrete or that has very much shape." 

"Yes" to life is a process rather than a product or a framework or 
anything else When you say, "What is the new paradigm? "What do 
I believe 7 " The best you can say is, "I believe in mystery I believe 
in spirit." How you get any closer to that is almost impossible. 

I disagreed with Nancy by stating that "I believe in you (Nancy) and 
you re pretty solid." Kate added that "It's not vague either." Nancy clarified 
her statement with the following: 

I embody something that you believe, but I am not all of what you 
believe. I'm not the totality what I do is point to the totality, but 
it's never fully contained If it ever got contained, it would be an 
idol So what I give allegiance to is life and spirit and mystery I 
believe in that totality, but know I'll never fully realize or ex- 
perience it fully 

Laurie reinterated her belief in the small moments of resurrection. If 
it hadn t been for those hands that reached out and held me and those 
people that sat down and took time to write cards to me and those people 
who stood and cried with me I couldn't have gotten through what I went 
through." 



157 



Those moments are very tangible. They're not the whole picture, 
but they are very real. It's Emmanuel... God manifested in those 
moments. Those moments where we reach out and touch each 
other. 



Kate spoke about how part of what she understands to be new 
paradigms involves reclaiming the importance of naming. 

Why can't we call those moments resurrection? Other people over 
centuries have named certain things as "God" or good... that God 
gave Jesus as a sacrifice, for example. I think we need to name some 
other things that are valid... from our experience... or out of that 
circle of women who gasped at the thought of Abraham slaying his son. 

Nancy shared that for her, "The paradigm is not that we take old 
symbols and rename them so that they become reified....because eventually 
those too need to be renamed. The paradigm for me is this constant 
renaming, constant changing and experiencing new perspectives " 

When we start looking for the Holy Grail out there as though we re 
eventually going to find it. we re dead I believe we have to be on 
the quest, but we have to understand that if we ever find what we re 
looking for, it's over 

Jennifer spoke about how it is difficult for her to say what she 
believes because "I don t want (my beliefs) to be used as a weapon against 
me or against others." She spoke about how beliefs that become icons have 
been used against her as a woman and a lesbian, and is fearful that the 
nature of the institutional church itself insists that beliefs be classified as 
either "right" or wrong." 

Una understood what Jennifer was saying, but stated that "there s a 
need for naming because its being on the journey. Una went on to speak 
about what she understands to be new paradigms. 

One of my methodologies for finding new paradigms and where my 
calling leads me is to deal with the old names, the old stories and to 



158 



say that the priorities that were set for telling the Jesus story were 
priorities that came out of a particular period in history We re so 
cross focused! What about the focus of birth giving and of God being 
born of a woman at a point in history where women were nothin g ? 

Una also shared that she feels a need to focus on the old stories because she 
understands part of her call to be attentive to other people's journeys as well 
as her own. 

So you have to go to where they are, listen to what they're saying, 
learn how they've come to understand it. understand what is death 
dealing about it and what is life giving about it. and move from there 
to the next place of life. It's also important to recognize and teach 
that the thing that is life giving for a particular day, a particular 
community, a particular era won t necessarily work for another 
community and it doesn't invalidate what you think That's a tough 
one in terms of tradition. 

I spoke about how it's important for me to also recognize that what 
one community might name as life affirming might be death dealing to 
another. "Part of what I think it means to be faithful in that situation is to 
name what is death dealing as evil, and not to just say that whatever anyone 
believes is okay. " 

It means standing on some norms, some values and claiming what 
those are The key is to not make those cement, but to know where 
you are standing when you make a claim so you know how and when 
to move That tension around how we need to stand and how we need 
to move seems to be the journey itself I've got to know where I've 
been to know where I'm going 

Maria shared that one of the reasons she still stands within the 
Christian tradition is that she sees power in the history of the Saints. I want 
to be on that journey with them. " She sees that the Saints embody what she 
calls "a sacred no and a sacred yes'" and recognizes her call to do the same. 

I don't just say an unqualified no' or an unqualified yes to my 
tradition It involves reinterpreting the stories, loving them, and 
finding out when you have to say no' to them. 



159 



She cited the sacrifice of Isaac and the Jeptha stories as examples of texts 
that require the sacred no.' She also spoke of how for her, an omnipotent 
understanding of Gods power also requires the sacred no.' 

Why did God save Isaac and not save Jesus and not save the young 
woman and not save any of the victims in the Holocaust and not save 
Steven Biko and not save Oscar Romero? Does God pick and choose 
like that? And if that's God, then that's the God I don't believe in. 
That's where I have my sacred no.' 

Una responded by saying that "we need to talk about power and God. 
God has authority for me. ..God has power. I'm not always sure what that 
means, but to say that God has power over everything.. .over everything 
begins to describe what the power is." Maria asked Una to try and articulate 
what that means to her. 

I'll tell you a story I was riding in a car with some friends who 
were talking about nuclear war and they asked if God would allow 
that to happen I said, Yes.'' If that happens then I truly believe 
that there will be some life in that, some transformation Even 
though in our notion that means total destruction That doesn t 
mean that I don't stand behind movements that would want us 
rid of nuclear arms or of things that destroy our lives But I have 
this sense of God's power and authority as somehow calling forth 
an acknowledgement in me that God is in control And that even 
out of the nasty stuff that we do life goes on The journey con- 
tinues Nothing can separate us from the love of God 

Nancy stated that she "can affirm that without attributing 
omnipotence to God." 

If I attribute omnipotence to God, I'm in a bind I'm in an intellectual 
bind that I can t get out of The only way that I can manage to believe 
and stay on the journey is to say that God and I are co-creating here 
God is not ultimately responsible for either the good or the evil 

Una responded by stating that she doesn't posit it as an intellectual 
point. "You talked before about what we trust? In my experience, out of the 



160 



worst evil there has been a blessing. This isn't an intellectual thing for 
me. ..this is experiential." 

Sarah ended the discussion with reflections about about how she 
believes in God as experienced through community. 



I believe in those people. It's like, when I'm preaching some Sundays 
and I know some of the trials and tribulations of folks in the church... 
and there's something about looking and seeing their pain, or being 
in the midst of it or being in the midst of their joy and their hopes 
and their dreams and their aspirations that it just makes me say "I know 
there's a God somewhere.'' 



161 



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